Egyptians live two parallel lives: the life of reality that they struggle through daily and a fantasy existence of which they dream, a fantasy that they feel is quite close to reality, but have never managed to reach. Although the gap between the two is large and constantly growing, most Egyptians don’t notice it and are quite content to live and experience both the reality and the fantasy. Politicians are pleased with this phenomenon, since it makes it easy for them to capitalise on the fantasy life that is so dear to the heart of Egyptians, while deliberately ignoring the ugly reality.
The reality of Egyptians’ lives is sad and harsh. Egypt is an underdeveloped country and one-quarter of its population is living in poverty. The country’s infrastructure is extremely weak, job opportunities are exceedingly rare, the standard of education is very low and health services are particularly inadequate. Yet, Egyptians somehow manage to ignore these realities and to live in a fantasy life where there is hope of acquiring wealth, of prospering and advancing. Egyptians adamantly believe that they need only to cross a short bridge to step into the life they dream of, probably within the space of a few months.
In contrast, the fantasy life of Egyptians is quite inspiring! Looking at the flip side of the coin, it’s true that Egyptians certainly have a very rich history and an ancient civilization that often attracts the world’s attention. Millions of tourists want to visit Egypt and the country has abundant resources. Simply highlighting these resources makes people believe that the gap between reality and fantasy in the lives of Egyptians is a narrow one.
However, Egypt is a country that has been ineptly managed for decades, not only due to the poor and corrupt policies of its rulers, but also because its citizens don’t play a constructive role in the development of the country. Furthermore, there is no evidence that alternative leaders would do a better job of managing the country.
Politicians play an excellent role in sustaining both lives, assuring their followers that, once they are voted into office, crossing the bridge from the harsh reality to fantasy will be an easy and simple task. The promises made by most politicians are not founded on objective, substantiated programmes. Rather, they are based on the illusions that constitute a part of the life of the majority, backed by the politicians’ false promises. Making the most of the voters’ fantasy lives leads them to believe that they are almost there, that only a small push by the elected politician is needed to make the life they desire come true.
Egyptian politicians are very much aware of the reality of Egyptian life and the difficulties involved in reaching the promised goal. Yet, they decide to capitalise on the fantasy life that is close to Egyptians’ imaginations and hearts. Asking electors to face reality would, most probably, preclude their chances of being voted into power.
Egyptians have deliberately decided to inhabit their fantasy lives. Faced with a major crisis or a chronic illness, they tend to believe in unscientific remedies and treatments, searching out fortunetellers whom they believe have the power to heal them or to predict the future. Of course, poor education plays a major role in this behaviour. Nevertheless, large numbers of educated Egyptians share these same beliefs.
Numerous stories have served to strengthen the fantasy life of Egyptians. After the 2011 revolution, Egyptians were totally convinced that Mubarak had stolen $70bn from Egypt and that the return of this amount would make them all rich (a few individuals actually requested personal bank loans offering their share of Mubarak’s money as collateral). Politicians who repeated this story knew that it was highly exaggerated and they were perfectly aware that it is almost impossible to get the money back. Still, the tale was certainly a useful tool for getting rid of Mubarak and bolstering the politicians’ popularity. Three years after the toppling of Mubarak, this amount, or even a fragment of it, has not been reimbursed, and its existence never determined or proven.
Egyptians have placed all their fantasy hopes in the 2013 constitution, which clearly states that the Egyptian government is committed to “achieving social justice”, guaranteeing “appropriate pensions” for the elderly, providing “food resources to all citizens”, with the common purpose of enabling Egyptians to live decent lives. These statements, and other well-written articles, give Egyptians genuine hope in the future. In reality, however, the constitution does not set down a timeframe for the implementation of these promises, nor does it establish specific penalties for not delivering on them. The state is thus not really held accountable or responsible should it fail to implement these provisions.
Another aspect of the fantasy life consists of convincing Egyptians that Western nations are deliberately impeding Egypt’s progress. Every single negative event that occurs in our country is said to be part of a foreign conspiracy, engineered by the West. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the population, including highly educated Egyptians, accepts this notion, thus shifting the blame for failing to improve the country’s poor standing from Egyptians to the foreign powers allegedly responsible for the regrettable state of the country.
Successive Egyptian governments, including the Mubarak regime, SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal government officials, have used this mantra successfully. Fearing a drop in popularity, even politicians who reject these foreign conspiracy stories dare not challenge this phenomenon. Nations that maintain close relations with Egypt and provide the country with financial aid are the ones that are often accused of conspiring against us. Egyptian governments have continued to use aid from these nations – and to hint at their conspiratorial activity – but have never considered terminating the relationship.
Egyptians tend to mix fact and fiction. Most of their personal storytelling contains a strong dose of fiction; after repeating the story several times (even in different versions), storytellers themselves tend to believe the fiction. Propaganda plays an essential role in affecting the behaviour and activity of Egyptians, to the extent that the propagandists eventually come to believe their own fake stories. Many government officials and politicians have realised their status based on the propaganda they generated, rather than on any actual achievements. In most cases, the lack of substantive accomplishments of these officials reinforces the tendency to depend on the mechanism of propaganda.
Since Egyptians always want to advance by the shortest route possible, the fantasy life is closer to them than the reality. Egyptians want to believe that they are rich in status and knowledge, preferring to focus on their achievements rather than confronting their difficulties. However, if we really want to move our country forward, we must go back and start at square one. We have to recognise the tough reality: begin to face our challenges and to work on overcoming them. We must understand that making Egypt a developed country is a long-term effort, one that will also require placing the country’s needs above its citizens’ interests.