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Monday, September 12, 2005

Taking people to task

Moved on! Check TheCairoCalls

That’s exactly what I intend to do.

Now I might be going off on a tangent, but a discussion of the “people’s” role (or lack of it for that matter) in Egyptian politics seems to be somewhat relevant to the whole debate about democracy, liberalization, the NDP, Kifaya, haram, and what not. Don’t you think?

Any causal observer of the Egyptian political process would come out with the awesome conclusion that the “average man” is perhaps the single most powerful person who ever walked this valley. (Now I am acutely aware of the fact that such words as “the people” and the “average man” are gross and intelligence-insulting terms, but please bear with me this over simplification.) If you go through the list of changes that need to be done to our economy, education, political process, and even sports only to be obstructed by (or said to be obstructed by) the ‘man of the street’, the ‘public opinion’, or the ‘Egyptian society’, you’d appreciate what I mean:

  1. The parliament is a virtual stall machine, in part because of the, at best sophomoric, constraint that 50% of its members should have dropped out of education at some point. Now, I don’t have a problem with that (dropping out of education, in fact I am encouraging it, read on) but to have this as a criteria for representing your fellow citizens is extremely absurd. “You know, most of the Egyptians are uneducated, and they need representation all the same….Oh, you’re saying that 49% of Egyptians are women, and 6% are Copts…oh…you know…it’s a different thing…next question…”
  2. Radically overhauling the educational system is in most part overdue because of the fact that any real attempt to improve this mess would include: a) decreasing the number of students at the top of the educational ladder (higher education), and increasing them at the base (primary education), b) cutting back on free education, limiting it to primary schools, and at the same time expanding scholarships to exceptionally bright students. Egyptian propaganda, ah, press translation: your little Ahmeds and Monas won’t be able to be doctors as you’ve always wanted, despite the fact that if they actually became ones, they would not earn enough money to call themselves poor.
  3. The budget continues to be strained by an overwhelming subsidy bill that has to be footed every month, just to appease the masses (Now, I’m aware that an even larger bill should be paid to subsidize officials’ life styles, but lets keep it about us for the time being.) The problem with subsidies (as well as excessive tariffs, and other anti-competition stratagems) is not only in its financial burden, but more importantly in its deterring effect on investment, which in turn lowers employment, incomes, living standards, which calls for more subsidies, and so on and so forth.
  4. Even in football, the government continues to support a completely failing system (national team, clubs, stadiums, etc…) instead of turning it to the private sector as it should do, only to guarantee that the unemployed would be able to watch Ahly beating the hell out of Zamalek one more time (I’m Zamalkawy by the way), while having the afternoon shisha, rather than taking out to the streets.

And the list goes on and on. My point? My point is this; most of the overdue changes in society are either attributed falsely to the will of the people, or are in fact because of the unclear view the people have about what is exactly is in their best interest. Either ways, unless the people (I’m starting to abuse the word, sorry) speak out and take a more proactive stance toward learning about, and demanding their rights, there is actually no hope for change.

Now, I know you might be thinking “so, what’s new about this? We knew that all along”. What’s new is that for the first time we’re actually able to measure (with a very reasonable accuracy) the extent of Egyptians’ apathy, and it’s 90%. We’re now officially living in the 10% society which decides for the rest who to lead them. (An improvement on the pre-revolution supposed 0.5% one, but still).

Is there a way out? Yes. Is it easy? No. As a wise guy (aren’t they all) once said: The truth is seldom simple, and never easy (I might as well have come up with that, I don’t know), but here are my two cents.

Remember my talk about incentives. I think that is the silver bullet for all reform. If you ask, where is the carrot?, then most probably you’re on the right track. I’m not saying that people are bad, opportunistic, or any similar thing, but any rational being wouldn’t be interested in (let alone be involved in, or mobilized to) participate in any process unless there is something in it for him. That’s not to say that freedom and democracy are not important or crucial, but it is all in the eye of the beholder. Freedom might be at the top of my priorities. I am not worried about what I’d eat for dinner, my job security, or personal safety (although there had always been doubts about this last one in Egypt), so I have enough capacity to worry about democracy and freedom. But for somebody who lacks some of the basic needs (steady income, job security, personal safety, decent education, medical insurance, etc…), those needs would inevitably take precedence over democracy and freedom.

Now I know that I might begin to sound like some of the apologists whom I have always hated, who says that it’s more important to have food and a job than to vote for a president. But what I’m actually saying is quite the opposite; it is the same thing. What all political forces failed to do, is to actually link the two in a clear and unmistakable manner. Show the people, clearly and honestly, that electing you would make them have better incomes, more humane treatment, better education, and better health care, and they will go by the millions to the polls and elect you.

Seems too good to be true? It is. People are, by definition, suspecting of politicians, their talk, and their promises. And they’re rightly so. But more importantly, and this is the central point of my whole argument, most Egyptians cannot see the direct relation between policy and their actual lives. They might be interested in having a decent job, but they can’t see how a Central Bank’s decision to lower the interest rate, for example, can actually make that possible. They’re interested in having medical coverage, but it is totally beyond most people how a piece of legalization in the people’s assembly would be able to make that a reality. Unless Egyptians believe and realize that policy changes can actually change their lives, we’ll continue to have dismal participation in politics, and in life.

So what could we do?

I’m open to suggestions, but here is what I’m going to do. During a discussion with a colleague about why he is not voting in the elections, he said that he doesn’t think that any president would be able to reverse the declining course of things in the country, so it really doesn’t matter who wins. “I don’t think so” I said “In fact, I think that in a matter of 100 days a president can take enough steps to make sure that we’re out of this pit hole economically, and politically”. “You think?” he said. “I’m sure”

And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’ll try, with as much respect to time-accuracy as possible, to blog about what would I do in my first 100 days in office, if I was ever elected president. Needless to say that what I’m presenting is just my opinion, which would be immensely enhanced by all possible feedbacks, suggestions, and especially, contributions (in writing, not money…although I wouldn’t object to the latter)

So here we go,

Moved on!


I think better health care is a great idea as we have a major health care crisis.

By Anonymous Blue Cross of California, at December 27, 2005 9:09 AM  

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