Cerberus and the 12th labour of Hercules

Banning the Muslim Brotherhood is not a tranquilising dart. It brings greater disenfranchisement and creates a confidence gap. This opens the door to armed resistance as political alternative

Cerberus and the 12th labour of Hercules


In Homer, the mythical animal is merely identified as the hound of Haides: “When Herakles was sent down to Haides of the Gates, to hale back from Erebos (the Dark) the hound of the grisly death god (Haides Stygeros).” ‘Theogeny’, the epic poem by Hesiod, gives birth to a name: “Kerberos (Cerberus) the savage, the bronze-barking dog of Haides.”

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 122, has this to say: “As a 12th labour, Herakles was to fetch merberos (Cerberus) from Haides’ realm. Kerberos had three dog-heads, a serpent for a tail and along his back the heads of all kinds of snakes.” It was a weaponless Hercules who set off on his final labour. He was to subdue Cerberus and bring him back to Eurystheus.

From myth to reality: January 25, 2011 — the twelfth labour of Hercules, this time, in a nation situated along the Nile.

The target date and behind-the-scenes announcement for the movement into Tahrir Square came several days before the actual event. I found myself at the computer watching and waiting. Quietly. It was like observing the rustling of the leaves when a gust of wind hits the branches. A subtle movement, slight sounds of noise and again silence. Would Tuesday (January 25th) be the beginning of a new political reality? Was I tracking a fool’s paradise or the words of hardcore political strategists?

Tuesday dawned across the land of Egypt. My alternative newsfeed suddenly exploded with Tweets, images and street-level commentary. The people had responded to the carefully orchestrated planning. They came, in the same manner as Hercules. They strode into Tahrir Square and congregated along the streets of Alexandria. Without weapons, ready to drag Cerberus away from his post as sentinel of the ghosts of decayed political ambitions.

The 12th labour was successful, or so it seemed. Elections were held and citizens streamed to the polls. Hizb al-Hurriya crested all other competition and a wave of loyalists entered the halls of power. Mohamed Morsi became the fifth president of Egypt. Still, I watched and waited. Just as Hercules had overpowered Cerberus, so the people of Egypt had meted out the same to their own ‘bronze-barking dog’.

But the mythical Cerberus suffered no lasting damage, other than to his pride. He later returned as the sentinel guarding his post. And so it is with Egypt today. Cerberus has returned — different name, same military coat. The latest political move by the ‘selfie’ government troubles me. The Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terror organisation. Perhaps there are substantiated incidents, which show criminal intent. If so, arrest and secure those engaged in criminal activities. Bring these individuals under a jurisprudential gavel with the presentation of forensic evidence that supports the accusations. The current broad-brush designation places 50 percent of the population within reach of a military security apparatus, which can now incarcerate citizens and run kangaroo courts. Are we ready to cast the 51.7 percent of voters who loosely affiliated with Mohamed Morsi’s party a criminal demographic? The move to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terror organisation effectively castrates political opposition.

Let us take a quick look back. During the Mubarak era, the first ‘multi-party’ election of 2005 gave Mubarak’s National Democratic Party 88.6 percent of the vote. Uh huh, we all believe that story, right? However, the Egyptian presidential cycle of June 2012 produced credible results, consistent with fair elections. The Freedom and Justice Party (presidential contender Mohamed Morsi) received 51.7 percent of the vote with the Independent Party (presidential contender Ahmed Shafik) receiving a close 48.27 percent. The results were not what the world might have desired but fair elections are the beginning point for change. Minus fair elections, not a snowball’s chance in hell.

Banning the Muslim Brotherhood is not a tranquilising dart. It brings greater disenfranchisement and creates a confidence gap. This opens the door to armed resistance as political alternative. Make laws that penalise crime and then punish crime. However, if the movement from the sidewalk to the streets to protest a coup d’état is a crime, Egypt presents as a nation of criminals.

What a cluster! Stability precedes democracy but stability is only one of several benchmarks for democracy. Is this the alternative story to the media feed regarding the removal of President Mohamed Morsi? The Egyptian military cordoned a president whilst allowing the crowds to swell. The pro- and anti-presidential protestors who hit the streets were statistically matched in strength. Order was not restored to protect and maintain the right to political office. In the name of restoring ‘order’, fidelity to duty was cast aside. Cerberus returned to his post.

Now, perhaps, Cerberus returned with a momentary burst of acceptable reasoning. Minorities suffered intense persecution and animosity after the president was installed. Rumours regarding hatched and half-baked plans with terror organisations floated about, but if lack of governing well is sufficient cause for what transpired in Egypt, half of the nitwits across the globe who fumble the government football should also be removed by force. Democracy moves in different manner.


Hesiod, Theogeny 769, ff: “And before them (the halls of Haides and Persephone) a dreaded hound (deinos kunos) (Kerberos, Cerberus), on watch, who has no pity, but a vile stratagem: as people go in he fawns on all, with actions of his tail and both ears, but he will not let them go back out, but lies in wait for them and eats them up, when he catches any going back through the gates.”

What I have written is not a political endorsement. It is written as observation regarding human behaviour and political dynamic in 21st century Muslim-majority nations. At the end of the day, I always support healthy governance.

The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at tammyswofford@yahoo.com