Egypt’s True Challenge: Its Masses!

The prospect of millions of illiterate citizens protesting in the streets with no leadership, no clear affiliations and no common mission is the ultimate challenge that might confront Egypt. The Egyptian state has already experienced this situation during the 25 January 2011 uprising when millions of citizens headed to the squares with many demands that were difficult to meet – and asking demonstrators to go home empty-handed was just as difficult. Nevertheless, the Egyptian state’s faulty policies are provoking citizens to undertake another uprising that would be dominated by the masses and that would probably come at a substantially higher price.

Masses are very much like an elusive chain; once it is broken, it becomes very difficult to put the pieces back together! Masses don’t have an ideology to defend or a clear attachment to a political party; their individual economic condition is what triggers them. Since the masses tend to spend most of their time on the streets trying to make a living (legally or illegally), dragging them to public demonstrations is very easy. Masses tend to work in wealthy urban neighborhoods, going home at the end of the day to the inferior areas they inhabit – and noting the huge contrast between the two.

The Egyptian state does not have a policy of capitalizing on the energy of the masses to develop our country; on the contrary, it works on ensuring that they are suppressed to prevent any kind of revolt. The state’s usual patriotic rhetoric does not stimulate the masses’ nationalism in the least. Their eagerness to survive overrules all the nationalistic rhetoric the state tries so often to engage them in. If educated wealthy Egyptians work to serve their personal interests, the masses, too, think of their own immediate benefits – but the situation is worsened in their case because they are irrational, impulsive and have nothing to lose.

The masses, who are the clear majority of our society, are easily incited and mobilized by nonsensical arguments. During the 25 January 2011 uprising, Egyptians, in general, were very excited to hear that former President Mubarak’s wealth amounted to 70 billion dollars! The news motivated them to stay longer in the squares, hoping to get their personal shares of Mubarak’s wealth – in fact a few citizens later applied for personal bank loans, offering their shares of Mubarak’s wealth as collateral!

The state does not draw upon the sophistication of educated Egyptians to help handle the burden of the masses. The Egyptian police use the masses to pressurize and manipulate educated elites who often complain about their misconduct. On the other hand, as long as they are at a distance, elites are not really concerned with the plight of the masses. Occasionally, during elections, they try to woo voters from among the masses –  turning a deaf ear to them later.

Egyptian masses will continue to live in poverty and illiteracy for quite a few years. Even if we were on the right economic track, which, indeed, we are not, true political and economic reforms will take years to yield results. Pundits often call for the need to provide quality education for the masses; however, education is a long-term issue in the context of our present challenges. Meanwhile, the current state policy of marginalizing and crushing the masses is increasing their frustration and aggregating the possibility of more uprisings.

Although the main theme of the 25 January 2011 uprising was the revolt against former President Mubarak and his family, the true revenge that the masses were seeking was from the police forces (tens of police stations were ransacked and burnt). Mubarak was more of a media icon; following his court trial kept people busy. To avoid any kind of instability, the Egyptian state needs to formally integrate the masses into society, not necessarily by offering a government job to each citizen, but by giving them a chance to live a decent life that they will work to protect.

There is a single effective and spontaneous channel for organizing an uprising in Egypt: inciting the masses against the state. If they work effectively, political parties and civil societies are the only entities that could control the energy of the masses. Therefore, we need to work on strengthening these entities to take up this role. The masses are in desperate need of a smart (but also fair and firm) engine to work on moving them forward. This is the only method capable of managing and restructuring this unpredictable and uncontrolled segment of Egyptian society.

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