Of Serifs and Sharifs

Published: July 15, 2017


PHOTO: REUTERS The writer is a lawyer pursuing an LLM from Columbia University. 
He tweets @brainmasalaar

Calibri was never really designed for printed paper; it was introduced as a font for screens: a font without serifs. But as of a few days ago, Calibri has been all over the papers as a result of a JIT report that involves a very important man. The font that was never really meant for paper, somehow made it to a very important piece of paper. Impressively, in a feat that would give the chicken-egg dilemma a run for its money, it is alleged to have done so before it could possibly have done so.

Credited with the discovery are a Few Great Men (which should decidedly be the title for the movie that is eventually made on them), who, in a last act of defiance, stood up to the family that penned or printed the very important piece of paper, and in turn penned the epitaph for the family’s reign. So it goes.

Headlines proclaim — in fonts with Serifs — that “Calibrigate” (perhaps it is time to rethink adding the suffix ‘gate’ to just about anything that tickles our political fancy) may be the last nail in the coffin for the House of Sharifs. If this is the case, I think what font to pick for the headstones of the grave should be obvious.

But things are often not what they seem, especially when they are not what they seem. The font fiasco, contrary to popular perception, occupies a mere five lines on one page (page 54) of the two-hundred-and-fifty-page report, in which the portentously named Robert W Radley tells us that the font was not commercially available before January of 2007.

Lucas de Groot, the font’s creator, echoed the same; the font was not commercially available before 2007. However, he conceded that it was at least within the realm of possibility that someone may have gained access to it at the time of the alleged creation of the document. Granted, you were unlikely to do this unless you were a “computer nerd”, as he phrased it, but it is still within the realm of possibility.

De Groot, in all probability himself a computer nerd, went on to question why anyone would use a completely unknown font for an official document in 2006. Why indeed? Perhaps our first daughter’s technical adeptness extends beyond tweeting twitter trolls. Maybe the first son is a closet typophile. Who knows?

Yet the brilliance of the discovery makes one hope that after the litany of litigation and the arduous anticipation, Calibri would bring it all to a close. But while a full-stop is a full-stop, regardless of font, this is not the end.

The submission of false documents before a court carries a criminal charge. The thing with criminal charges is that they tend not to leave much to the realm of possibility. The oft-heard ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ means that sometimes even the most unreasonable propositions are still just reasonable enough.

So where does that leave us? Will Calibri singlehandedly bring down the Sharif dynasty and make the first daughter the first member of the first family to wind up in prison? Probably not. Does that, then, leave us with nothing? Absolutely not.

In simpler times, the question was of flats, not fonts; of ownership, not forgery –questions that may finally have been answered. The Trust Deed itself required Ms Safdar to “hold” bearer shares for her brother. Never mind what a bearer share is, it may as well be a turnip. What matters is that both siblings categorically stated that they had never seen any such shares. No turnip, no Trust. No Trust means there’s no trusting the first daughter.

Yes, her beneficial ownership does not in and of itself implicate the prime minister, owing to the dependency dilemma, but the JIT’s report offers so much more.

Enter FZE Capital. Up until 2014, our prime minister was head of the board of FZE Capital (where he listed ‘marketing manager’ as his profession; perhaps a clever euphemism for ‘politician’). The marketing manager in chief was working in the UAE on a work visa while prime minister of this country. A sweet deal guaranteed him 10,000 dirhams along with a 30-day paid vacation; transportation; accommodation and of course, food. Beneath the veil of FZE capital was the emperor himself.

So no, a font will probably not herald the end; but that is not the end of it. There is so much more to the JIT report than a single font.

To borrow from someone who has a much better way with words than I, the JIT report reads like War and Peace — producing something new each time you read it. The only catch is that you move past the font and actually read it.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2017.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Arslan
    Jul 15, 2017 - 5:23PM

    Fantastic piece and very well written! Fontgate may or may not be the end of the House of Sharif but it is surely one of the many fulcrums ‘pon which rests the entire affair!Recommend

  • Rasikh
    Jul 15, 2017 - 6:51PM

    Wonderfully written… Finally someone with originality… Write more..Recommend

  • rao amjad ali
    Jul 15, 2017 - 9:28PM

    Well written and well received!Recommend

  • user
    Jul 17, 2017 - 9:24AM

    Very well done.
    Here is to hope that this lawyer, over time, does not turn into Salman Akram Raja.Recommend

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