“So, one of the presidents probably briefed you personally after the meeting?” was my sarcastic response to a friend who advised me of the content of a secret deal made years ago between former presidents Mubarak and Clinton, exclusively. Egyptians are not only drawing illusionary pictures; they tend to personalize the pictures based on their individual aspirations. Our propensity for making up narratives that suit us is limitless and it often entails reinventing the Middle East region, usually by splitting up nations and creating new ones.
Egyptians spend their days ‘connecting the dots’, trying to understand many issues that are only known to a very few senior officials. Unfortunately, many of them spend a significant amount of their time coming up with various hypotheses that are based purely on ignorance. A widespread claim made by many citizens is that they know more than the rest of the population does. However, advancing false arguments does not make people more knowledgeable; it contributes significantly to the spreading of ignorance.
The state’s concealment of many basic facts and “hidden agendas” that it declines to share with the public stimulates many Egyptians to invent their own imaginary political scenarios. ‘Christians who live in the South will establish their own state’ or ‘the Sinai province will be taken from Egypt’ – these hypothetical scenarios, and many others, that fundamentally contradict the reality on the ground are often articulated by Egyptian “experts”. This is a direct result of leaving the interpretation of political issues completely to citizens’ imaginations.
As the leading world superpower, the United States (regardless of the administration in power) is the “usual suspect” when it comes to identifying the hidden hands behind dividing and conquering the Middle East region. The narratives and arguments that I hear give me the impression that our region is a sweet pie that ‘big brother’ is effortlessly slicing up and distributing; a substantially easier task than my experience at birthday parties where the guests tend to help themselves to the cake before any refined distribution can take place!
Egyptians’ love of conspiracy theories, coupled with their ignorance of the truth, often leads us to think up our own mock narratives. Leaving politics entirely to the individual citizen’s imagination ends up in having too many farfetched scenarios that satisfy the imaginations of those who claim to be political experts. Most of these experts tend to have their own views on political issues. While they may be entertaining to some people, they come at the expense of magnifying our ignorance.
It is always valuable to leave a few political unknowns to citizens’ imaginations; however, to be able to complete the picture somewhat realistically, people need at least to learn some factual basics to build upon. Having many artistic, unrealistic scenarios in the political sphere not only confuses and misleads citizens; it makes people jump to conclusions based on their misconceptions. I am aware that not every political issue can be shared with the public. Nevertheless, the only method of educating citizens to distinguish between fact and fiction is to advance their knowledge of realpolitik.
Imaginary tales will not resolve the many challenges that the Middle East region is facing at present. The state should play a better leadership role by mentoring and guiding its citizens. The Egyptian government could help people to fine-tune their thinking processes by releasing some of the facts to the public. We need to establish a common factual platform that individual citizens can assess in their own way eventually. Leaving even the fundamentals to citizens’ imagination has led to the state of paranoia we are living in.