Thursday 20 February 2014

Between criticism and patriotism: Egypt, a proud and broken country.

One of the worst things the Mubarak regime did was to instill the notion that any public criticism of Egypt or shaming of its authorities is tantamount to expressing a hatred for the country, or worse, committing actual treason. Those who spoke out about institutional and societal problems in Egypt, were accused of “trying to ruin the country’s reputation”, an accusation that is commonly heard in countries without a democratic culture and with a record of abuses of individual rights. This problem was especially visible whenever a member of the Coptic community, a Christian minority making up about 10% of the country’s population, spoke about both state-encouraged and societally approved discrimination and sectarianism. The reaction consisted of two layers: one is the denial that such discrimination took place, the other was to claim that even if such discrimination took place, one shouldn’t highlight it or speak about it too loudly, certainly not in English. Egypt is made up of desert for the most part, so there is no shortage of sand for one to burry one’s head in and unlike other resources in the country, that one was used very efficiently.

After the revolution, this excessive concern with the “country’s reputation” skyrocketed as the can of worms, formerly hidden under years of Mubarakian dusty stability and security, was finally opened for all to see. However, one major difference was that the accusations of treason, condescension and hatred for the country didn’t just come from a fearful and fragile regime desperately trying to hold on to its image, but from many normal Egyptians who seem to have internalized that mode of thinking over the years.

Now, it must be said that many are indeed guilty of a rhetoric marred by an arrogant superiority complex and a condescending attitude toward Egyptians and their needs. Such a rhetoric was adopted equally by those who claimed revolutionary status and those who had hopes of holding on to the old order, by Islamists and secularists alike. Not only should this rhetoric be condemned for being distasteful and morally repugnant, it has also proven ineffective for, as it turns out, calling people “slaves” doesn’t usually get them to sympathize with your cause.

However, the harsh criticism I am talking about is of a completely different nature, it is not inspired by arrogance but by truthful self-reflection, not driven by contempt for the people, but an honest will to overcome the many challenges the country faces. If we believe true change comes from within society, we must be ready to face our demons. Empty slogans about love for and pride of a country with as many serious and deadly problems as Egypt are not only meaningless, but actually crippling to any progress.

When the host of the political-satire show Al Bernameg, Bassem Youssef, first started, he said Egyptians were known for their sense of humor, however, not when the joke was at their own expense. In fact, Egyptians do laugh at their own misery and make jokes at their own expense quite often, especially in those last years. It is only when that talk gets serious, when the people are confronted with the magnitude of the lies they have been fed since childhood by society and through state propaganda, when they realize the number of myths about greatness and superiority they have been told, that they take offence. The natural response then becomes denial and suppression of what has to be said. That reaction must change, for true good will for this country consists of placing its progress above its reputation, placing reason above myths and putting truth above all else.