“I believe in democracy – so long as my political opponents never assume power”, stated an acquaintance defining his understanding of democracy. Egyptians are currently placing their emotions and personal interests above their rational thinking and national interest, confronting a true polarization that is clearly splitting society. Egypt is presently experiencing a state of affairs that seems to benefit citizens affiliated to the ruling regime, and this is, unquestionably, detrimental to our nation.
One of the fundamental aspects of true democracy is that citizens are able to establish a constructive dialogue among disputing parties – a trait that does not seem to exist in our culture. We Egyptians express our opinions confidently; certain that we are always right and that we need to lecture our misguided opponents. To a great extent, Egyptians are now able to enjoy expressing their outlooks, endlessly arguing about topics they have no clue about and accusing their opponents of espionage.
Personal emotions and interests shape the thinking of most Egyptians. Many of us tend to defend and justify what we like and condemn everything that we dislike. We are constantly digging a deep fissure that is splitting society into supporters and opponents (based on fabricated narratives that each of the two parties believes). I haven’t heard of a single Egyptian modifying his thinking pattern to adopt that of the ‘other side’; some people pretend to express different opinions temporarily (to align themselves with the government), but I’ve never witnessed a genuine paradigm shift in a citizen’s opinion. This flaw in our society has nothing to do with the government.
Apparently, freedom of expression in the era of the social media has a downside that enables each citizen to relieve his or her frustrations unconstructively and immorally, causing more harm than good to society. Deleting many friends and acquaintances from social networking websites is the easy punishment meted out by many Egyptians when confronted with difficult conversations – an illustration of society’s intolerance in dealing with opposing opinions. Social media, which is supposed to broaden citizens’ horizons, has confused Egyptians, who are unable to digest the basic essence of democracy.
The complete marginalization of the opposition in Egypt has left it with two choices; turn into intolerant, prejudiced citizens or into potential extremists who might explode at any moment. Even if we assume that the opposition in Egypt is a clear minority, living under such conditions is certainly putting the entire society at risk. Meanwhile, affiliation to the ruling regime gives another segment of society a false impression that it is always right. This segment of society tends to expand its ignorance by arguing incessantly and it will always do its utmost to maintain its status and not repeat the unpleasant experience of being ruled by its opponents.
We in Egypt live in a completely polarized society where each citizen believes that he or she knows the whole truth and has a valid opinion. The gap is widening between citizens who support the ruling regime and those who completely oppose it. The debate in Egypt is not about what serves our country best, but about who will win the current battle – a battle that is paid for by our national resources and the thousands of citizens who offer their lives to protect our country.
As long as the Egyptian government continues to apply a polarization policy that splits citizens into “us vs. them”, allowing a segment of society to believe that they have won and that their opponents have lost, the country will not move forward. Winners in Egypt believe that they deserve to be in power forever, forcing losers not only to be intolerant but extremists as well. Egyptians need to be reunited as one nation with diverse opinions. This necessitates a bold government and mature citizens who can understand the value of this objective and comply with it.