Egyptians are looking for a hero, a person who will magically solve their problems with minimal contribution on their part.. Egypt’s current president, aware of this issue, capitalized on this fragile emotional bond to garner additional votes and reinforce his popularity. It would be a serious mistake for President Al-Sisi to believe that his compatriots love him unconditionally, however. On the contrary; Egyptians will bestow the status of hero upon him so that he can meet their demands; not fulfilling their expectations means that they will quickly abandon him.
Egypt does not, in reality, need a hero. The country needs a fair and firm leader, someone who has an understanding of the concept of justice and who can apply firmness steadfastly. Unfortunately however, President Al-Sisi, with his strong military background, has presented himself as the strongman that the country needs, and is leaning more towards firmness and less towards fairness.
Egyptians, who have always been proud of bending the law (even in cases where there is no need to do so), who deliberately lead chaotic lives, and who are known for their fondness of illegal shortcuts, often look for a strict leader capable of organisation and disciplining them – a big brother who, in order to improve their lives, will punish them when they make mistakes. Thus, Al-Sisi’s appeal as a strongman attracts many Egyptians, including sideliners who are willing to comply with this type of strictness eventually.
Nevertheless, implementing firmness does not require a person to be cruel. Firmness involves delivering the message that all law-breakers will be justly penalised, thereby minimizing the number of crimes committed. However, what has been happening in Egypt for decades and up to the present is the introduction, and very harsh application, of laws that favour the rulers and the marginalization of laws that do not serve the government or its affiliates. Successful implementation of strictness is reflected in the reduction and prevention of crime; not in the exercise of harshness towards citizens while crime rates continue to rise.
Unlike strictness, for which there is some demand by Egyptians, the concept of fairness, or justice, constitutes a great dilemma. Egyptians view fairness from a very narrow perspective, with each citizen believing that whatever suits his or her needs and desires is fair. Furthermore, regardless of his identity, the person who comes to power in Egypt is utterly convinced that his opponents deserve harsh treatment and that the application of extremely severe rules upon them puts him on the right side of history. The concept of double standards is widely applied in Egypt (sadly, this is often done unconsciously).
A ruler’s perspectives should not be involved in his application of justice or firmness – even when the ruler in question is a hero, a popular president, or one who has been elected by a vast majority of citizens. Basically, the rule of law is a tool that helps to combine the qualities of fairness and firmness. Laws must be issued by a genuinely representative parliament and be supported by key political forces and intellectuals – which is certainly not the case in Egypt. In my opinion, the law regulating popular demonstrations issued by the past interim government does not comply with any of the above conditions.
If Hamdeen Sabahy, who seems to have a better understanding of justice and fairness, had won the presidency, he would face great difficulties in mobilising Egypt’s corrupt ”Deep State” to implement these concepts, since this would necessitate fundamental internal reforms which State institutions can be expected to stubbornly resist. The “Deep State” accordingly would have done its utmost to portray Sabahy as a weak president who is incapable of leading the country.
Meanwhile, with a military background of over four decades, President Al-Sisi appears to be a leader who wishes to play the combined roles of judge and jury. I anticipate that his policies and decisions will be largely influenced by his personal experiences and understanding, rather than by any sound advice put forth by skilled experts, or by reliance on a truly representative parliament to make critical decisions.
The fact that both qualities (strictness and justice) are not to be found in a single person is a reflection of the recent evolution of society as a whole. Egyptian society today is one that happily applies double standards, is driven by individual interest rather than by rapidly vanishing communal needs and values, and that, in many cases, turns a blind eye to bending the law. There is no doubt that the State-deployed media has contributed to shaping the current deteriorating state of affairs.
Believing that Egyptians today favour firmness over fairness would be a misconception. It is common knowledge that Egyptians are currently polarised into two groups. The group who supports the current regime and manipulates the media appreciates firmness (to the extent of cruelty), convinced that such conduct will restore security on a national scale. The remaining portion of the population, who believes in the inherent injustice of the current political status, is not bothered by the lack of security and is even ready to instigate acts of violence in order to promote social insecurity.
President Al-Sisi must work towards establishing a fair society. He should implement social justice firmly without depending solely on his personal understanding of the problems at hand and on the support of his affiliates. Rather than undertake the hasty manoeuvres of a hero, over-promising and under-delivering, he needs to adopt a scientific approach towards tackling our socioeconomic challenges; a realistic approach that would give genuine hope to society. Let us hope that these attributes of leadership will be realised in the near future.