Thursday, June 23, 2005

What's wrong with Egyptians?

No, not everything. There are lots of wonderful Egyptian individuals, who have many good characteristics and who are able to excel in various fields of life.

There are many efforts done by individuals in an attempt to develop this country too. All the efforts are sporadic and random however, that the net effort amounts to zero. Some think of zero as a good number, a neutral number. But its actually a very degrading number. Try to multiply a number with it, or divide it by another number and you get no where. Try dividing a number by it and its an undefined operation (not a number).

So unfortunately, the good efforts done by so many Egyptians seem to maintain the survival level of this country more than to develop it in any way, and that is the zero number I'm talking about. It looks like we're standing still and surviving, but we aren't. Survival alone without development is a degraded state of being, and that's what we're living.

There are a few great Egyptian individuals whom are well known, but many more aren't. What makes great individuals even greater is being able to achieve what they do in the tough environment they're in, fighting back all the factors that are fighting them, instead of supporting them.

At a younger age, I used to think that one cannot achieve except outside of this country. But small achievements here are worth a great deal. Helping a few helpless help themselves here and being part of the early trivial development activities that could happen here (if ever), could be as worthwhile as getting to the moon and researching rocket science elsewhere, and sometimes its just as hard.

Every moral man and woman in this country that is holding tight to their morals, in this lawless swamp of immorality is making a great achievement.

Humans are the same everywhere. Some of the differences arise from the surrounding culture and from how we're raised. Yet we all have the same traits and chracteristics, needs and desires, just balanced differently. But Egyptians as a group have common factors that can be attributed to us in general, which are a result of the surrounding culture, and the environment we're being raised in.

I claim that what's wrong with Egyptians is not the individual within us. But what's wrong with Egyptians is us, as a group of people. Its how we function together, and how we perceive others. In fact, its how we are not able to function together. The problem is with Egyptians as a society functioning through our culture.

How we are governed by our regime is not an exception. Its from us, onto us --wa min a3malekom ma solleta 3alaykom. If we take snapshots of our society at any level, we'll find that every sample mini-government in our society functions the exact same way. Every power figure acts the same way, and every group of governed people in our society act the same way. We personify leadership (sometimes to an idol status, intentionally or not), blow them up, then suck up to them so we can be closer to them to benefit from their power, and when their time is up, we throw them over to take their place or work through the next powerful figure. And those who don't do that, allow those who do to rule.

For some reasons that anthropologists and sociologists can analyze, cutting corners has become a theme of our culture, where its important to get the job done, but not important how it gets done. Ana wa men ba3dy eltofan (I come first, and the tsunami can destroy the rest), is the definition of being smart in this culture, and if you care and work with others then you are by definition naive and dumb.

Lawlessness is at the core of our problems. What is not an attribute of a culture can become so with the application of suitable laws that are enforced effectively and justly, and which eventually over time become natural laws of the society. I see the West applying more of God's laws than we do here. Not Islam per se, but God's laws in general. They've managed to create man-made laws that in many aspects reflect God's will on Earth, and we haven't been able to do so. Look at some of the basic laws. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt pay your taxes, and others shall benefit from it. Thou shalt not harass women, not even with an offending gaze. Thou are equal infront of God, except through your deeds and actions. Thou shalt respect others' rights, including right of belief and religion. And so on. All these are laws in the West which are applicable there, but not here (either because they're not written, or because they're not applied). So its not really a matter of whether to apply the Islamic Shari'a or not. I think its a matter of working hard and sincerely on having relevant and suitable man-made laws to start with, and if those laws are well-thought of and genuinly for the benefit of the people, then they will resemble God's will on Earth and they will be God's Shari'a. Then, such laws should be justly applied in form and in spirit. If we can't come up with such laws and apply them justly, then we'll never understand God's Shari'a.

All that is not the main problem however. The problem is with our monolithic culture that accepts no criticism and no diversity. We are not allowed to criticise us and our culture. We think one way, and its the right way, and if you deviate from the group thinking, you are un-Egyptian, have ulterior motives, a traitor, or a kafir.

Yet most of those who do deviate, and criticize, do so with such an extreme manner that it just proves how similar they are to the culture that they're criticizing. Well, they're Egyptians. They too are unwilling to see the others' point of view. They too are not willing to be criticized, thinking that they hold the truth. Well, they too are obviously part of this culture that don't accept criticism.

I read some of the Egyptian blogs and opposition papers for example, and see an outlet for criticizm of everything Egyptian, which is wonderful. In blogs specifically, there's criticizm that is hardly acceptable --not by the regime-- but by our culture in general. Yet still, it is criticizm that is too extreme and too rigid most of the time. Criticizm that is not to be criticized. Egyptian style criticizm. We are the kind of culture that want everyone to think the same way, our way.

I see the problem is as much with the Islamic fundamentalist extremists as much as it is with the Secularist extremists for example. Both act the same way, both would govern the same way, both are bred from the same culture obviously.

The way I see it, is that every culture has major flaws. Yet a culture that is not capable of self-criticism in a constructive manner, of embracing all of the diverse thoughts within, and of self-correction, cannot progress. So the problem with us, is not the different flaws we have --which are all treatable, but its that we are not willing to admit that we (as a culture) have flaws and work on them in a constructive manner. We blame everything, especially individuals, but not us as a group.

We're not necessarily doomed however. I've learnt that everytime I make a criticism I should provide atleast one alternative solution (and I didn't learn that in Egypt). So one of the solutions to me does come from changing the top of the pyramid. Although I've argued that our problem is with us as a group of people, yet it is almost impossible for this culture to change itself, to change without leaders.

That's why I question the application of democracy here sometimes. We governing ourselves, through our own self-bloated culture, won't make us work on our problems. The general overwhelming traditions, thoughts, taboos and approach to life will be more general and entrenched even further. I'm only afraid that our cultural traits would eat up the good that might come out from democracy.

What we might need is a group of good leaders that take us through the leap. That work, first and foremost at mending the way we function as a group. But they could turn into a group of good dictators, and there's no such thing as a good dictator. So go figure.

* I dedicate this post to the wonderful jog that I enjoyed running this morning which motivated me to put my thoughts together for this post. Little things motivate little things.


Al Sharief said...


Intresting thoughts, but things "the wrong things" apear to be much clearer and more straightforward than reaching the point of "questioning" "the application of democracy here" or ultimatly surendering to a "group of good dictators" if ther's such a thing...

The achievments of numerous Egyptian inviduals over times, inside & outside of Egypt, in almost all fields of life, are well documented facts. Since It is the same socity / group who produces those accomplished indviduals, one must question the circumstance that makes the socitey as a group dysfunctional as such.

I believe it's the group dynamic it's self in which it produces those indviduals & how they become the "Elites" in a specific walk of life.
I can further say that "Elitism", most of the times unwarranted, in Egypt is one of the major causes of socital dysfynctions to act as a group and almost always lead to the "Big ZERO".
I've drifted to one of the less ovious "Wrong", since I was trying to address the topic of accomplished Inviduals in a Dysfunctional Socity.

The obvious "wrongs" that come to mind:
- As you mentioned, our falure to recognize, acknowlege, and accept our "Wrongs".
- Then, comes our complacency to address our wrongs with ease and minimum or No effort and some times "No Will". Dangerous Ha!
- Lack of focous, reads Lack of Research on this very subject by professionals, Why our Socitey is Dysfunctional, including Poltical Sociolgist. A topic in college that I guessed & I hoped to study, that I believe Egypt is now in daire need for.
- I do not want to open the tab of Lacks, But lack of Professionals (other than in Medicine & Engineerings)& people with professional attitudes in all walks of life.
- And By Far, the #1 Wrong is the VERY high # of Illiterates in the socitey & it is NOT taken seriously by the "Elitism" & the "Ruling Class" This is another very relevent topic that I may address later

DNA said...

Interesting thoughts Mo. I agree with most of what you've pointed out, and I share some of your fears on the application of democracy in Egypt.

However, where I agree with you the most is on the rigidity of critical thought in Egypt. For example, the opposition is eager to call anyone against the opposition itself a pro-gov. apologist, or a traitor, or a card-carrying thug, just as quickly as pro-gov supporters dismiss the opposition as traitors and imbicels. As you put it, it seems anyone with an opinion wants everyone else to share that opinion. I think that obstacle - that barrier - once crossed will make development that much easier.

Twosret said...


Jog more often man :)

Al Sharief said...

Yapp, I salute the jogger on you :)!

ألِف said...

I agree with you in many places, but I differ where you condemn criticism as being rigid.

Well, let's think..
How do you expect criticism to be?
If, for example, I'm not convinced that there is better-than-this for what I am criticising, then why would I be criticising it in the first place? Just to show off my critical-thinking abilities and to stand out of the herd!

I'm opinionated, and I like to think that my opinion is more likely to be right than yours, when we differ, until new information/logic enlightens me.
Then I can formulate another opinion, not necessarily yours [my opponent], but maybe a third.

It's not you-convince-me-or-I-convince-you either. But rather thinking together, and sometimes, playing the devil's advocate and trying to see holes in ones own theory. But you have to gain my respect [critically] show me some new evidence, in order for me to reopen the case. As for me, I'm shuffling and enhancing my judgement every moment according to the new inputs I get.

If I don't know, I'd say I don't know, but if I do say I know, while not believing in what I say, then what?

Do I have to agree on the first opinion that is not mine, just to show I'm flexible.

I know that's not what you mean, but as I said, I was thinking at the expense of your comments' count.

Mohamed said...

That sounds like pretty good stuff Alif. But doesn't sound Egyptian to me!

The One said...

Dear Mo,

I must say this is not the first time I discover youg blog. However, it IS the first I have the time to sit down and read through it and I must say, your writing style is truly that of professional quality. I would be surprised if you turned out NOT to be an actual columnist in some newspaper.

Anyways, about the point. Your critique of "The Egyptian Way" is in my opinion flawless (however, I think in reality this is the case in ANY society, to varying degrees of course).

Personally, I think the world of "opinions" is divided into two "realms";
The first one is the man-made realm. Which contains everything from opinions to laws to outright constitutions made up by us people.

The Second is the "divine" realm, containing all that is known to be the word of God or his prophet (PBUH).

Now to me, the latter is untouchable. It is not subject to questioning (except when it comes to understanding, rather than validity).

However, anything belonging to the former is definately subject to any level of criticism there is. Especially when it comes to matters of government policy. As it is a right of citizenship to choose one's government (either directly or via representatives/senators). I guess this is in agreement with what you said.

But, I do have a couple of takes on your article. They both relate to the following paragraph:

"That's why I question the application of democracy here sometimes. We governing ourselves, through our own self-bloated culture, won't make us work on our problems. The general overwhelming traditions, thoughts, taboos and approach to life will be more general and entrenched even further. I'm only afraid that our cultural traits would eat up the good that might come out from democracy."

There is two possible implications here that I don't think are appropriate:

1) That as a people Egyptian may not be suitable/deserving of democracy: This is exactly what Egyptian ruling parties have been using as an excuse to not implement democracy for decades. Obviously, I don't think it is smart to open the door to that mentality to continue to exist.

2) That in order to implment democracy, we may need "non-Egyptians" to be the ruling "regime". Another dangerous door to open, considering what happened in Iraq.

I understand that you may not have meant to say the above. But if you decide to re-read it you might see where I am coming from.

One last thing, about good leaders turning into good dictators (and eventually into dictators PERIOD), this is why most constitutions prohibit leaders from ruling for more than a certain number of years (and that the progeny of named leaders cannot come to rule directly after their relative).

I find it amazing that people like Nasser and Mubarak could turn into such cruel leaders for their country. I mean, both of them used to be war-heros, risking their own lives for their country. I guess the spell of the throne is truly irresistable!!!

Mohamed said...

The One, re the democracy part. Its not 1) nor 2), although I knew that what I said would most likely be understood that Egyptians are not capable/deserving of democracy, but that's not exactly what I meant.

What I'm arguing actually has nothing to do with the traditional notion of being capable or deserving of democracy. I think the capability comes from the hard work, and we certainly all deserve it --as long as we work for it. What I'm arguing however, is that through democracy the ills of our culture might be entrenched even further, because we are a culture that doesn't like to confront its problems and likes to hide them, and because we like to idolize our leaders and make use of them. So we elect leaders from among us, the majority (which represents the culture), who serves us and is representative of our culture and emphasizes it. When what we need to leaders who work on mending the problems with our culture, which I mention in the post.

programmer craig said...

Mo, seeing as how it's the day after 4th of July, an excerpt of the US Declaration of Independence!

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

That's rough going, but what it says basically is that people would generally rather have security and stability than freedom. I never understood how that could be until recently... lots of examples of it in teh world right now. People have opportunities to throw off tyrants, and yet they don't. They just grumble and complain and plod along with their lives. I think the same could be said about your comment - "mending the problems in our culture" - that's not a painless process, and therefore people will tend towards the easy way, the status quo.

Mohamed said...

Craig, I went to the 4th of July celebration here in Cairo in a spot that Americans have made it almost a replica of the States! It was a good celebration, and you guys deserve to celebrate that day for sure.