Egypt appreciates revolution and war more than peace

For the vast majority of Arab citizens, including Egyptians, arriving at a peace agreement with our enemy has been quite a difficult mission; for decades, we were brought up and educated to believe that Israel is our permanent enemy. Shifting our perception of Israel from permanent enemy to peaceful neighboring nation is therefore quite a challenging task! The Camp David Accord offered Egypt the complete liberation of its occupied land, which an extended series of wars with Israel had not achieved. For the Palestinians, the Accord proposed a largely solid basis for land negotiation, one that has been eroded significantly over the past four decades.

The twelve-day long secret Camp David negotiations were the exclusive product of late President Sadat and some of his political advisors, a few of whom he later replaced because they disagreed with his implicit vision. The Arab nations believed that by entering into negotiations with Israel and eventually signing the Camp David agreement, Egypt had betrayed the Arab cause; as punishment, Egypt was suspended from the League of Arab States for almost a decade.

The Arab-Israeli conflict has always been unfair to all Arab nations. Even Egypt’s two most notable achievements, the Six of October War in 1973 and the Camp David Accord signed on 17 September 1978, were only partly successful, not complete triumphs. Western nations’ continued bias towards Israel plays an essential role in this sad status, along with numerous internal Arab challenges. Nevertheless, in both cases Egypt did manage to maximize its benefits in light of the political circumstances existing at the time.

While almost all Arab citizens admired the Six of October War that was led by Egypt and in which the entire Arab and Islamic Worlds were genuinely engaged, the Camp David Accord initiated by Egypt was condemned by almost all of the same nations and their citizens – as well as by a large segment of the Egyptian population. This may indicate that we are a society that favors war over peace or one that believes that more wars with Israel will lead to the complete liberation of Arab land – despite the countless chronic socioeconomic challenges we are living with!

Late President Sadat, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for signing the Camp David Accord, was a clearly controversial leader who was later assassinated by his own countrymen. Sadat, whom westerners continue to admire, has been disliked by consecutive Arab generations – barring a few Arab leaders who have lately acknowledged that his achievement was the most remarkable political proposition in modern Arab history and that we could have been in a better position today had all Arab nations supported it at the time.

Although Sadat genuinely intended to develop our national economy after signing the Accord, we failed to capitalize on being the focal point of the world to attract true foreign direct investment to help develop our country. Bureaucracy and corruption were definite impediments that prevented Egypt from maximizing the Accord’s benefits – a process that either Sadat was not well equipped to pursue or that destiny denied him when he was assassinated a few years later. Additionally, our government appears to have relied more on aid received from the U.S. (an amount that was significant at the time) than on scientifically and systematically developing our country.

A few decades later, wanting to further activate and normalize the relationship between Egypt, Jordan and Israel, the United States launched the Qualified Industrial Zone (QIZ) granting Egyptian exporters direct access the U.S. market, without tariff or quota restrictions, on condition that products contain a small portion of Israeli input. QIZ has benefited a few Egyptian exporters, but has been of little or no value to the remaining citizens. Meanwhile, the opening of our borders to hundreds of thousands of Israeli tourists vacationing in the Sinai has led to a natural normalization of relations that was not incentivized by a third party.

Palestinian citizens probably dislike late President Sadat more than they do their enemy, Israel. They wanted Egypt to engage in numerous wars with Israel until their lands were fully liberated, completely discounting internal disputes among various Palestinian factions and the numerous political opportunities that Palestinians declined to accept (unfair opportunities certainly, but due to many compounded reasons, definitely realistic) – and condemning Egypt for opting for the peaceful path over that of extended wars.

Ironically, the Egyptian State celebrates many political, religious and social events, with the exception of Camp David! We celebrate three official revolutions that clearly conflict with one other; we celebrate all Muslim and Christian holidays and traditionally the entire population celebrates Sham El Nessim, marking the beginning of Spring. Yet we decline to recognize the signing of the Camp David Accord as a public holiday – giving the impression that our State and society appreciate revolution, war and Police Day more than peaceful processes.

The Camp David Accord is the most significant political achievement in Egypt’s modern history. We Egyptians should be proud of it and our government should recognize this achievement and celebrate it. Palestinian disengagement from the Accord, along with many other political factors, have transformed the Arab-Israel conflict from a chronic universal conflict into a minor one that only the United States has the right to address, leaving Egypt to play a very minimal role of meditation between the two main disputing Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas.

How personalizing issues negatively affects Egyptians’ lives

In a candid dialogue between a U.S. Marshal (played by actor Tommy Lee Jones) and a fellow law enforcement officer in the celebrated movie, “U.S. Marshals”. Tommy admitted taking his work personally on contrary to his department’s policy! Although, the Marshal’s persistent pursuit allows him to apprehend the suspect at the end of the movie, an innocent intelligence officer, who, apparently, had been framed by his colleagues. It remains true that taking matters personally effectively clouds people’s judgment and vision.

Whether in business, politics, or social matters, Egyptians’ lives are very much driven by our individualism approach. Personal perspectives determine our acts and behaviors, while facts or second opinions are completely disregarded; obeying our cravings, coupled with a keenness to prove that we are right, matter more to us than success through actual achievements. This Egyptian cultural dilemma is not associated with any ideology or political affiliation.

Working on shaping our decisions to fit and reflect our personalities, we Egyptians tend to shake up the facts gently, perhaps without noticing, until they mirror our personal desires. This kind of manipulation is eventually backed up by our personal arguments, but it certainly doesn’t stand on genuinely solid ground. What is more, immediate personal gains and thoughts of “what’s in it for me” often eclipse decisions based on personal biases in the first place.

Personalizing matters is totally justified when socializing, which is meant for personal pleasure. However, business decisions clearly affect our national economy and political viewpoints influence our national progress; in both cases, therefore, taking matters personally should not be an option. Furthermore, personalizing issues does not only affect individual decisions; it also occurs among entities whose decisions should be driven by principles of good governance. State entities and authorities tend to work on serving the respective needs of their organizations – at the expense of developing our nation.

The tendency to take all matters personally is triggered by emotions that lean towards ignoring existing facts and substance, which we Egyptians fail to acknowledge for the sake of fulfilling our individual aspirations. Intuition is needed sometimes, but it cannot always be the power pulling the wagon! Personalization is prompting Egyptians to perceive the entire world dynamic from their own perspective. As a result, individual citizens have developed their own private theories of universal dynamics – and they are unwilling to challenge their thinking.

There is a great difference between being ambitious and approaching issues from a purely personal standpoint; the former is meant to fulfill our desire to succeed and engender growth, while the latter serves to satisfy our egotism, often deceiving people into believing that their ideas or policies are not only correct, but also the most needed at present time! Egotism often traps people into appointing affiliates who continuously praise their ideas rather than persons with merit who challenge these ideas.

Furthermore, culturally, Egyptian society is not a dynamic one that is willing to accept divergent or contradictory propositions; we tend to defend our viewpoints at any price. While liberty gives people the right to pursue life in whichever manner suits them, maturity somehow fine-tunes their desires, working on overriding the cravings of individuals in the interest of national progress. It is perfectly legitimate for citizens to pursue their dreams; however, pursuing dreams logically and scientifically will yield better results for our nation.

Egyptians need to learn that taking matters personally comes at a high price – both for their personal life courses and for our national progress. Therefore, we need to draw a clear line between fact and fiction (which many apparently find to be confusing)! We must distinguish between our personal interests and the facts on the ground and make our decisions accordingly. Having preferences is a commendable trait, but such preferences should not be formed by manipulating the facts. We need to shake up and filter our outlooks to ensure that they are not constituted purely of personal desires and wishes.

Egypt and the West’s hostilities are only for show

While it may seem that political misinterpretation always exists between Egypt and western nations, this is in fact a misconception that only citizens of these respective nations believe; in reality, the Egyptian State and key western governments see eye to eye completely. The unwritten deal between the two parties entitles the West to occasionally express some sort of criticism of Egypt, upon which our government fires back spontaneously – but this brief unpleasant dialogue does not impact the well-established relationship between Egypt and the West.

Every now and then, the West issues a statement denouncing human rights abuse in Egypt, to which the Egyptian government responds immediately, stating that the West does not understand Egypt’s political dynamics and, in essence, that it should not interfere in Egypt’s domestic political affairs. In fact, western nations comprehend Egypt’s domestic political affairs more than many native Egyptians do, knowing how to “pick and choose” issues that could place political pressure on Egypt at the desired time.

Egypt shapes its politics in “black and white” while the West forms the same in “shades of color”. Nevertheless, a number of effective common channels keep the relationship between the two parties alive. Egypt wants the world to strongly and blindly support its core mission of fighting terrorism! Western nations want Egypt to breakdown its terrorism challenges into categories and to provide tailor-made solutions for each problem – a proposition that Egypt rejects completely and which it doesn’t even have the capacity to apply.

The West often claims that its foreign affairs relationships are shaped by national interests, moral values and political leverage, but the its economic interests serve western citizens perfectly while claims to moral values can easily be made through occasional announcements backed by assertions that the West doesn’t have the power to fix the political defects of other nations. In fact, western citizens decide to keep or to remove their respective governments based on economic performance, not on the ability to transform other nations.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian State has long known that privileging western nations with more economic opportunities will eventually and shortly quiet down Western accusations. Western nations’ eagerness to realize economic growth from autocratic developing nations is the main force that keeps their international policies revolving at the level of routine declarations. Since the West does not want Egypt to collapse under its pressure, issuing occasional gentle reminders that won’t cause any real harm is sufficient.

The recent report revealing that the French government has expanded its supply of weapons and surveillance equipment to Egypt (from €39.6 million in 2010 to €1.3 billion in 2016) symbolizes the relationship between the two parties. These supplies could be used towards domestic repression, and while France is obviously happy to expand its export of equipment, it may, in parallel, condemn their misuse. In this case, the Egyptian government may reply, “we are only testing your weapons” and the argument will be promptly settled – obviously, France is not selling these weapons for them to be used, but to test Egypt’s manners!

President Trump is a clear exception to this hypocrisy; he has categorically stated that he won’t interfere in any nation’s domestic affairs, genuinely implementing his policy of “America First!” Thus, his position was very clear when he froze part of the U.S. aid to Egypt due to its relations with North Korea. The freeze on aid was ended eventually after the Egyptian State met the United States’ political demands. Trump works to serve his citizens’ interests and is not keen on masking them with ethical values.

Trump’s political proposition has empowered the Egyptian State to overreact in many instants when it faced accusations. Egypt is no longer in a position where it is willing to accept Europe’s interference in its domestic political affairs. The difficulties many western nations encounter with establishing governments, along with the spread of political scandals in other nations, have strengthened the Egyptian State, encouraging it to maintain its internal political stance. Nevertheless, knowing that it is only for public consumption, both parties are happy to engage in this hostile dialogue occasionally.

How Egypt Switches between Hard Power and Soft Power!

Its obsession with using it has led the Egyptian State to believe that hard power is literally the only practical tool capable of helping to resolve all of Egypt’s challenges. In practice, the current ruling strategy completely neglects soft power, as mirrored in not even appointing executives who possess this talent to senior government positions. The non-existence of soft power in Egypt has turned many of the State’s supporters into outright opponents.

Egyptians tend to become affiliated to the State in circles. The inner circles are the loyal citizens who benefit from the State and, naturally, defend its policy in every way. However, this circle is by default limited in number; its members lose influence over time and are unable to effectively sustain and support State policies in the medium term. The outer layers of State affiliates are composed of the majority of citizens – maintaining their loyalty to the State is difficult since soft power (that is completely absent) is the only tool of influence that appeals to them.

Because hard power provides an efficient channel for conveying its message unambiguously and with immediate results, the Egyptian State tends to use it continually – but sadly, with short-lived results! The Egyptian State, unfortunately, does not have the necessary endurance to use soft power, which, backed by maintaining durable outcomes, would enable it to move from one proposition to another smoothly. It believes that a combination of nonsensical rhetoric and coercion can contain the anger created among citizens by the deteriorating economic conditions.

The Egyptian State often complains that it is confronting difficult challenges (the economy, population growth and terrorism). In fact, these are the exact same challenges that Egypt has been facing for decades, but our former political aspirants used to soften these challenges and were able to handle them better. Our problems are certainly magnified nowadays; however, this may be due to the ascendancy of hard power over soft policies.

That the Egyptian State has clearly failed in its public diplomacy efforts is reflected in the harsh criticism it receives from almost all renowned international writers. Nonetheless, the State believes that it does not need the support of international authors as long as it is able to reach out to their governments directly. It is convinced that it can undermine these writers’ soft power and does not realize that they are certainly impacting their political decision-makers, overlooking the fact that the western nations’ famous “revolving door” policy could soon bring these very same authors to power.

Egypt used to expend substantial efforts to offering functional solutions to regional conflicts. Our failure to employ government executives who have the necessary talents or even to accord some degree of priority to regional problems, have made us less influential on the regional level. Moreover, in the eyes of many nations Egypt’s ongoing political stance of fighting terrorism on behalf of the entire world appears to be hackneyed and trite.

Being utterly comfortable with the use of hard power has weakened the State’s ability to make use of different policies and tools, a technique that Egypt used to manipulate skillfully in the past. Egypt is at present stuck with its internal challenges and plays an extremely limited role in most of the region’s conflicts. As a result, our country has become less appealing to many nations that are reluctant to support us by expanding their investments and encouraging their citizens to visit our nation.

The Egyptian State is simply buying time by offering citizens a succession of economic promises that it knows it cannot deliver. The overlapping circles that have been supporting the current ruling regime are fading fast, and the State may end up with the support of only the single inner circle of State beneficiaries. Hard power will be useless when Egyptians are no longer able to accommodate the current economic crisis. At that point, the State will certainly regret the absence of soft power.

London: More than just a Cosmopolitan City!

My earliest first-hand experience of true freedom of expression dates back a few decades, when I heard a British citizen delivering a speech attacking Queen Elisabeth II personally at London’s Hyde Park Corner. I was keen to leave the crowd quickly, worried that the London police would arrest the speaker along with the audiences who had lent him their ears! In the following years, I advanced my knowledge about how freedom of expression operates in the United Kingdom, which has become home to many Arab critics and extremists.

A cosmopolitan city is often defined as a city that accommodates people who come from diversified cultural backgrounds and whose citizens are known to be broad-minded! However, London certainly is much more than a cosmopolitan city that hosts many ethnic and religious sects who tend to be hardliners and a few of whom are certainly extremists – a category of people that I used to think only emerged in totalitarian nations that constrain citizens’ freedom.

The United Kingdom’s success in accommodating all of these nationalities is probably due to its strict application of rule of law. However, strong law enforcement has no impact on Londoners’ manners, which have certainly changed over the years to adapt to the new habits that naturally come with the integration of new immigrants. During a recent visit to the city, I was astonished to see a native English customer jump a queue to proceed with his transaction, claiming that he was in hurry – a behavior that I had never encountered before in my long experience with the city.

London is a second home for roughly 300,000 Arabs and it receives another one and half million Arab visitors in the summer. The great number of people who speak Arabic, the halal food offered in many food outlets that even carry Arabic language signs and the availability of shisha somehow give London the appearance of an ‘Arab city’ situated in Europe. During an unpleasant occasion when I was visiting a hospital in London, I was surprised to hear the Muslim call to prayer coming from a hospital personnel’s mobile phone and I eventually found a prayer mat in the hospital’s waiting room.

In recent years, London, sadly, has confronted many terrorist attacks that were committed by the newcomers to the city, which made me wonder why terrorism flourishes in this innovative, entrepreneurial city. Aside from the fact that I condemn terrorism, I don’t know why terrorists attempt to carry out their devilish acts in the city that offers them home, assimilates them as part of a harmonized community and in many cases offers them financial aid to enable them to live decently.

The United Kingdom’s readiness to engage many ethnic immigrants in its political structure should logically conclude in the dissolution of all kinds of extremists – which is not the case! Did these extremists manage to conceal their ugly side when processing their documents to enter to the country, or did their fanaticism develop after they had moved in? The United Kingdom’s political environment has enabled Sadiq Khan, the descendant of a working-class British Pakistani family, to become Mayor of London and there are 15 Muslim members in the British parliament.

Meanwhile, I am unaware of any British-Arabs who have become significantly involved in their new nation’s politics! Do we Arabs prefer to spend our time socializing rather than truly engaging in politics? Why do Arabs tend to break the law and engage in violent activities in a nation that offers us a clear structure to pursue any goal peacefully? If it were my call, I would prompt the British government to work on restoring the manners of Londoners by firmly applying the rule of law, regardless of citizens’ backgrounds. Seeing London gradually loose its original exemplary behavior and good manners is a shame.

I am completely unclear about the best method to apply to reduce terrorism! I often criticize my country, Egypt’s, repressive policy towards extremists and highly value a nation like the United Kingdom that applies rule of law strictly. However, terrorist activities have taken place in both nations equally. Our Universe is certainly in need of a clear and common strategy for fighting terrorism that is rapidly spreading across every part of the world, with the aim of unleashing its hatred onto innocent civilians.

Egyptian Media: Many Outlets, Little Substance!

In a recent declaration, the Egyptian Minister of Education stated that he once received thirty-five missed calls from a journalist in a single day. The Minister, who declines to respond to the journalists who hound him, is a rare case in Egypt where ministers and other senior officials are usually careful to reply to journalists to avoid becoming targets of insensible media campaigns. Egyptian media is driven by whoever has more power, not by any identifiable, concrete substance!

Actually, in my opinion journalists should not reach out to ministers; each Egyptian ministry has a media department that journalists should contact for updates about the ministry. Egyptian journalists, however, believe that they are helping to advance our country by highlighting the “government’s shortfalls”; ministers should therefore always be available to respond to their inconsiderate phone calls – as if journalists were the policymakers in our country.

The real power in Egypt is in the hands of those who have widespread and free access to the public and who can offer articulate information i.e. journalists and TV presenters, obviously. The Egyptian State has therefore placed a tight grip on almost all newspapers and TV channels, making sure that they are run by cadres who are loyal to the State. However, these loyal cadres seldom abide by the ethical norms of the media business, “shooting from the hip” at whoever isn’t responsive to their nonsensical demands.

To fill up the long hours of broadcasting, TV presenters tend to use a long unsubstantiated single-perspective rhetoric that offers no focal point and lacks depth, falsely claiming that they are shaping public opinion to support the State’s mission. This erroneous understanding empowers our TV presenters to violate all established norms in their dealings with ministers and senior officials. Along with the dissemination of false information, such behavior has become an essential part and an acceptable norm of their profession.

Moreover, the over-employment that exists in Egyptian media outlets has driven the clear majority of their workforce to think only of securing their jobs – to the detriment of media merits and ethics. As in many other professions in Egypt today, these qualities are not determining factors that differentiate between good journalists and mediocre ones. The fact that most Egyptian media outlets don’t have corporate missions that they would like to safeguard leads to unpredictable acts and behaviors by media representatives.

Egyptian newspapers are now driven by advertisement revenues! Commercial personnel, along with some editors, receive substantial incentives upon selling advertisement space, some of which result in bad payments. As a result, many State media outlets carry plenty of advertisements that enrich their editors and personnel but leave their respective newspapers indebted, a policy that forces the government to pay billions of pounds every year simply to subsidize the losses resulting from false claims and superfluous arguments.

A few years ago, Egyptian print media used to present fair and comprehensive coverage of various domestic issues; editorial pages were written by knowledgeable writers (some praised the ruling regime and others criticized it). Reading the entire newspaper provided us with a rich and diversified outlook. Due to low quality editorials that flatter the State and make no room for even a few moderate arguments, today’s newspapers are only worth a cursory glance.

The number of newspaper readers is declining substantially and those who read the papers can easily differentiate facts from nonsensical blather – a well-known fact that all media representatives admit, but that the State insists on denying. Offering creditable substantiated material is the only gateway to reviving our once flourishing media industry. Egypt does not need this large number of printed newspapers and TV channels; a few good quality media outlets are better than many outlets with no substance.

Can people be religious without being rigid?

Observing the inflexible attitude that many religious people adopt often makes me wonder whether believers can be religious without being rigid! Which attribute tends to develop first; religiosity or rigidness? Do religiosity and rigidness mirror one another or is the relationship between them one of cause and consequence? Can believers be religious out of love, or is fear of the Almighty a prerequisite for the religious? Regardless of which holy book people believe in, rigidness and religiosity often go together.

The Almighty created a direct and exclusive bond with believers without delegating special tasks to other humans; individuals are personally accountable for the manner in which they choose to lead their lives – and no person plays the role of go-between! This includes preachers who fulfill a constructive role in better explaining religions, but are certainly not entitled to impose their personal understanding of religion upon their followers.

Being religious is an extraordinary human state. Attaining the status of true believer necessitates a comprehensive understanding of religion – a proposition that is better adapted to open-minded people than to narrow-minded, inflexible persons. Rigidness is definitely a human defect that causes many to argue a given point intensely without having fully comprehended the essence of the subject, regardless of what that subject is. Rigidness is an egotistical state that inflates and shields people’s personalities at the expense of true knowledge.

Some argue that to be religious requires a highly disciplined observance of religious rituals, which in turn demands a rigid life style. In fact, many people who are quite disciplined in their work, dietary or athletic routines do not have rigid mind sets. Moreover, which is more valued by any holy book; strictly following a given routine out of fear, or using the same routine to enhance people’s spiritually out of love? I doubt that love could merge with rigidness.

Others argue that citizens of all nations need to be disciplined; thus, religious rigidness is necessary. In fact, the matter of citizen discipline in any nation is one that is best addressed by the rule of law, without the interference of religion. Depending on numerous sociopolitical factors, the governing and disciplining of citizens can go through different stages; the perfect protection for any given religion is to immunize it against these changes. Nevertheless, religious teaching may galvanize the essence of rule of law – but religion itself should never be used to micro-rule society.

Preachers, and believers in general, who have pleasant personalities are more able to rapidly and efficiently reach out to those seeking a better understanding of their religion. While preachers with harsh personalities may have a large following, they assemble their followers by command, not love. Unfortunately, religious people with pleasant personalities are rare in many cultures where it is falsely believed that rigidness garners more respect and is therefore better suited to creating the required religious bond.

Religious people often want to widen and secure the scope of religion, believing that every single topic in life must be viewed through a religious perspective. The persistent desire to broaden the scope of religion actually constitutes a risk to any given religion; instead of offering people the true spirit of faith that they need, it increases their questioning of religion. Preserving religion as an element of spiritual support probably complies better with the teachings of our respective holy books, while sustaining our natural humanity.

Rigidness is a cultural defect endorsed by the erroneous views of many religious believers across the world. The clear danger of rigidness is that it may cause people to accumulate false knowledge that better fits their rigid personalities – at the expense of truly understanding their religion. This proposition might unintentionally distance many religion seekers from establishing a closer attachment to their religion. In fact, rigidness is a trait that we should consider discarding completely.