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?