A Stranger In My Own Country

As time goes by, post-revolution, I’m beginning to realize more and more that every person who participated in the revolution had different dreams in their heads for Egypt. We all had one shared dream: we wanted to remove Mubarak and his regime. General chants calling for freedom and social justice were common among all. But my concept of freedom and social justice evidently is different from my neighbor’s concept, and his concept is different from the concept of our farmer friend down south.

When I was demonstrating between January 25 and February 11, I was dreaming of a more progressive Egypt. I was dreaming of an Egypt with less corruption, less bureaucracy, more freedom of choice, openness to information and knowledge. I’m surrounded by friends and family who want similar things for Egypt, albeit not always in the same exact way. But the differences between me and my friends and family are differences I can tolerate. They are small differences, not large differences. They are expected differences. When I thought of “democracy”, I thought of democracy between me and my friends. Sometimes I’d be part of the majority on issues and sometimes I’d be part of the minority. Either way, we’d all get along and we’d accept each other and the results of our overall democratic decisions. After all, the differences were always differences I could tolerate.

But I live in my own bubble. Too many of us live in our own bubbles.

According to the 2011 Human Development Report, 33.6 percent of Egyptians over the age of 15 are illiterate. For adults over the age of 25, only 43.4 percent of women and 59.3 percent of men have received a secondary education and in general Egyptians are receiving only 6.4 mean years of schooling. According to Internet World Stats, only 26.4% of Egyptians are connected to the Internet.

It is one thing to differ with family and friends, all of whom have received a university education and are connected to the outside world through the Internet, satellite television, or personal travels. It is another to differ with the majority of the population that has a very different background and upbringing.

Mind you, I am not passing judgment on the majority of the Egyptian people. I am stating facts. This is our situation. Those who have no education or a minimal one, those who do not have access to information and knowledge beyond that which is given to them; those people will see the world differently than others who have had a substantial education and who do have access to knowledge and information.

It’s easy to simplify some of the current problems I’m witnessing in Egypt –especially some of the very odd discussions happening in parliament –by attributing these problems to the rise of Islamism. But I don’t think that’s it. I have some very conservative Muslims in my close community of family and friends. I don’t differ from them that much. I also don’t feel that I differ much from my very liberal and even atheist friends. One large thing that does separate my bubble of friends from so many others in Egypt – frighteningly, the majority – is education and access to information.

What’s very concerning to me is that democracy in Egypt might result in an uneducated majority – a majority that has minimal access to information and the outside world – ruling our country and making critical decisions about our future.

I’ve tried to be delicate in my wording but I’m afraid I’ve failed. I want democracy in Egypt. I do not want the alternative. I hated it when the former regime said that Egyptians were not ready for democracy as if we were a population of morons. But what I see happening in Egypt is scaring me. Will the few freedoms gained for women in the past few years be taken away? Discussions in parliament are certainly heading down that road. Will other people’s understandings of religion be forced on me by law? Will our constitution be put together sloppily?

When I was revolting against our former regime I knew what to expect. We all probably did. We knew who would fill the political vacuum. Or we had an idea anyways. I certainly didn’t expect the rise of political Salafism although I did expect the more mid-line Muslim Brotherhood to come to the fore. I knew we’d need years and years to get Egypt to where it needs to get in order to become a better country. But where are we headed? Will we head towards the better Egypt I have in my mind, or will we head towards the better Egypt in the minds of others?

I’m scared.

 

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14 comments

  1. I guess we all share those fears you have. Every time I watch parliament (and mind you, I almost never miss a session) I’m just gaping in horror at the things they discuss, at the double standards they take in order to enforce their views on the rest of Egyptians.

    There is a serious problem of education. I guess when you lack access to information or knowledge, then it is very easy to be swayed by the words of someone who pretends to speak for God. That is how the majority of Salafis won their seats in parliament. They all went to the poorest areas, where education was a rarity, and preached that they knew what God wanted and they lined the way to heaven.

    The actual understanding of democracy as the ‘rule of the majority’ is what scares me the most. Those clowns in parliament seem to think that forming the majority bloc means they can pass anything they want while ignoring the voice of the minority because “the majority voted for them”. This is idiotic, because a democracy protects the rights and voice of the minority.

    Their fixation on unimportant issues, while ignoring the real dire of Egyptians, is disgusting. How can you choose to discuss removing women empowerment laws rather than discuss how to implement social justice?

    I have nothing against uneducated people. In fact, I think we are mainly to blame as we let things deteriorate so badly over the years while we did nothing. Had they been given a chance, more often than not they would have chosen a better way. But they were never given that chance. I don’t believe in a fascist rule where the “better and more knowledgeable” would rule the less able uneducated. That goes against all I believe in.

    However, I just wish that the people would choose to put their faith in those who are knowledgeable and show it rather than those who are ignorant and use the words of God to hide it.

  2. I’ll admit up front that I’m a bit detached from the day to day realities in Egypt. But I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis that the lack of education and access to information is a major cause for concern. So many people are swayed by emotion and zeal and lack the in-depth understanding of what is actually needed to put the country on a path of development and social justice. But I also think that if people were fooled by those who put on a cloak of piety, they will also demand to see results and when those results don’t materialize then they will search for those who can deliver it (whether or not they belong to a “religious party”). It’s a process of reaching a level of democratic maturity and I don’t think anyone predicted that it would happen in one go. You are right though to sound the alarm bells. Egypt needs more people who are unbiased and scrutinizing how the country is run.

  3. Being afraid of the uneducated masses is an issue that all new democracies have to face. This is why education for everyone is so vital. A big wake up call for all political active women is the fact that what we achieve politically so easily can be taken from us. I don’t think Egypt is alone in trying to set the clock back. Look at the U.S. elections where they have put contraception on the agenda.

  4. I guess we have to endure the democracy of the mobs like every other country that had gone through a democratic transformation. I don’t think Egyptians are less ready for democracy than any other people, the only way to learn how to choose right is by having the freedom to choose, commit mistakes and learn from them just like children. We all need to learn how to practice democracy even among us, true some of us need more learning than others, to develop their awareness, to appreciate & respect the freedom of oneself and of other, but I think & hope that one day we’ll get there. It’s just too bad this not going to happen soon enough for us, I really wish I could be one of the upcoming generations, I guess their Egypt is going to be the one we dream with, so taught luck for us I guess

  5. أوافقك في الرأي ، أن آفة الديمقراطية في مصر هي نقص التعليم والمعرفة بوجه عام وهذا ما حاول النظام السابق الإستفادة منه في عدم الجدية في محاربة الأمية. وقد كان الأمل في الإسلاميين أن يحاربوا الأمية وأن يتبعوا أول تعاليم الله في القرأن وأول كلمة نزلت منه “إقرأ”. لكن للأسف فمن الواضح أنهم أول من أستفادوا من هذا الوضع بإستغلال أمية المجتمع سواء العلمية أو المعرفية في تصدير أفكارهم والسيطرة على هذا المجتمع لمجرد الوصول للحكم ، وهو نفس السيناريو القديم صاحب كيلو السكر وزجاجة الزيت ولكن بوجه جديد يعتمد التبشير بالجنة. إن ماأراه الآن في المجتمع أنه تحول إلى مجتمع العصور الوسطى في أوروبا حيث تحالفت النخبة الثيقروقراطية مع بعض الديموجماتيين لإعادة بعث وجه أخر من نظم الحكم الشمولي. إن كثير من السلفيين تحت قبة البرلمان لا يقوموا بواجبهم التشريعي المحايد ولا تكمهم سوى قاعدة واحدة أنهم قليلي الخبرة وأن إذا أخطئوا لهم ثواب الاجتهاد وإذا إجتهدوا لهم أجران، وكائننا في معمل تجريب فزيائي أو مركز أبحاث وتناسوا أنهم يتخكموا في مصير أمة سيحاسبوا عليها في كل الأحوال. أم الإخوان فقد أعمتهم شنوة الإكتساح ويعيشون لذة سكرات الحرية بعد سنين طويلة من الذل والإنكسار. وفي الجانب الآخر من قاطرة الحكم يقف نظام الحكم بشقيه الحكومة والمجلس العسكري برؤية صامتة يحجب بها المعلومات عن المشرعين ولا يساعد إطلاقا في النهضة بالبلاد.
    إن ما تفتقده هذه الأمة هو وجود مشروع قومي يلتف حوله الشعب كله ويكون مشروع ذا أهداف متجددة ليرتقي بالجميع إلى النحو المأمول في إصلاح البلاد.
    وأعتفد أنه حيئذ يمكن أن قول أن الثورة وصلت لأهدافها.
    إن ماينقص الإسلامين عامة هو مراعة قاعدة “لا ضرر ولاضرار” و “أحب لأخيك ما تحبه لنفسك” وأن يسئلوا أنفسهم هل ما يفعلوه فيه الخير لمعظم الناس وهل سيقبل به كل الأطراف. كما يجب أن يتذكروا أنهم أتوا لخدمة البلاد وليس مصلحتهم الخاصة سواء مظاهر تدين أو نظام عبادة وحكم معين

  6. I enjoyed reading your article and I share some concerns with you . I suggest we should work hard with our people to change Egypt to what we believe is right for the new progressive Egypt . That is a HUGE effort needed to influence and shape our destiny . I am one of those believer of this bubble theory you are talking About .
    Respect
    Hatem Azzam

  7. Reblogged this on Chraeloos and commented:
    This post seems to be the face of the way the Egyptians feel right now. Everyone is uncomfortable and unsure about how things are going, and they will not know how it will turn out until years from now, which may be too late. Nadia Elawady does a fantastic job of describing a common point of view about the state of Egypt now. And the rest, I’ll leave up to her:

  8. 1. Much of the foreign (mostly US-based) media coverage is too alarmist about the “Islamist threat” in Egypt. The mainstream media and some think-tank talking heads in some countries care way more about Egypt’s relations with Israel than the actual needs and demands of Egyptian citizens. Their reports should be taken with a grain of salt. This doesn’t mean “they all lie” it just means one should expect lots of manipulative reports.

    2. The “uneducated” masses aren’t that gullible and easy to fool by nice words. They also have calculations, they also analyse the messages and compare promises with the outcome. Masses have a “moderating effect.” I’ve read some good articles about this but can’t remember where. I recommend looking for some well written stuff about that. They could alleviate some of your worries.

    3. It’s very important not to disconnect with these “masses” as domestic politics is all about hearts and minds. Any belittling comment or a comment that implies their vote is less worthy than your vote would send them a terrible message about your intentions. I am all for talking about new progressive approaches but when it becomes belittling a segment of society people stop listening to you. The more progressive people should spend their time actually talking to the less progressive masses in a mature attitude, respecting their intelligence and only trying to convince them rather than lecturing them as if they’re children.

    Not to mention the fact that a “secular” person isn’t necessarily a progressive person and a person with a PhD can be way more bigoted than a person who had no secondary school education.

    This is what I want to say to the people who say they’re worried. In general I feel optimistic about Egypt.

  9. As an American, my first thought after reading this was: Same as here,” where an uneducated hillbilly majority rules (aka all the red states in the middle of the country, vs. the blue state coasts). Most people in the interior of the country are much more predominantly Christian and conservative than those on the coasts, who, especially in urban areas, are much more liberal in their religions (if they have one) and politics. The problem is: even highly educated liberal elites in the U.S. government cannot be trusted with power. Example: Barack Obama; a Harvard law school educated former Constitutional law professor who has so far since taking office: openly ordered the assassination of U.S. citizens in Yemen (Anwar al-Awlaki, etc.), sent his Attorney General out to give a big speech at Northwestern University law school claiming to justify U.S. government assassinations of U.S. citizens as “legal” under our U.S. Constitution (it’s not) because “due process does not mean judicial process.” Or, as the comedian Steven Colbert rightly parodied: “Due process just means there’s a process . . . that you do.” Obama has also continued to escalate Bush’s massive warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans suspected of no crimes, signed the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which claimed to give the U.S. president the power to indefinitely detain any person merely *accused* of “terrorism” in military custody, without charges or trial until the “end of hostilities” in the so-called “war on terror” (aka forever). He has violated the U.S. Constitution by attacking Libya without prior congressional authorization and by continuing to bomb that country in violation of the War Powers Act, even after Congress voted on a bill opposing the war. He has not held Bush’s torturers or the torture lawyers who wrote the legal memos claiming to justify torture, accountable. He has escalated drone wars in numerous countries, all while claiming the wars themselves are “classified.” He signed a reauthorization of the U.S.’s “emergency law,” the so-called Patriot Act. Two members of the U.S. Senate’s intelligence committee have been claiming for years now that the Obama Administration has a “secret” interpretation of that Patriot Act that it is using to justify violations of our rights that would be “shocking” to most Americans if we knew about it, and “make us angry (their words).” Yet the Obama Administration refuses to make this secret interpretation (i.e. secret law) public. The NYTs recently sued the Administration to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request to force the administration to disclose it’s controversial interpretation of the law. I could go on and on . . . So, even highly educated liberal elites with training in constitutional law use the government with impunity to violate the rights of Americans, and also the rights of people in other countries.

    I voted for Obama in ’08, but I will not vote for him again in ’12. I’m sure as hell not voting for Romney either. The problem here is that there are no major party candidates who oppose all of the above mentioned policies that violate our rights. They all want to keep violating our rights, and, in fact, keep adding to the rights violations. I read your comment about watching the Egyptian parliament on TV and being appalled at what you were hearing. I thought, again, just like here. I watched the U.S. House on C-SPAN here just a few days ago when they were debating an amendment to the 2011 NDAA that would have changed it by taking out the illegal “indefinite detention” provisions. Members of Congress were literally on the House floor publicly *opposing* the amendment claiming, essentially, that “terrorists” have no rights (meaning all of us, since we’re all “potential terrorists” to the government). The Amendment failed to pass.

    A couple of recent articles illustrating the state of the U.S. right now:

    A Victory for All of Us
    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_victory_for_all_of_us_20120518/

    The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)
    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1

  10. Honestly, political islam is the final step to disaster. Islamization of a country leads to the cruel regimes, like Iran, Pakistan, Aghanistan. Egypt is on the way there. With Moursi to take the presidential seat, nobody can stop Muslim Brotherhood in their goal to create caliphate. It is also hard for me to see Egypt going this way as I predicted after the fall of Mubarak. But the harder for me is to see the Muslim immigrates from their wonderful islamic – reign countries to infidel´s land just to spread the SHARIAH to a democratic and liberal system acknowledging human rights, and poisoning the western civilization. Stay in your fucked up countries where all you do is just pray and pray and pray and study qu´ran and nothing else. You don´t know that life can be much more, not just islam, not just religion. HUMANITY and LIBERALISM are the greatest values in the world.

    PROUD INFIFEL

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