Watching a classic Egyptian movie while knowing that righteousness will prevail over sin at the end of the story gives audiences a sense of bliss and relief. The wise old saying that, sooner or later, righteousness will always defeat wickedness is a stark contradiction to our living reality. While movies intensify the tension among viewers for a couple of hours at the end of which they are rewarded with a pleasant ending, life in Egypt seems to have ousted righteousness, making it look more like an illusion. The result is that we have been held in the grip of genuine anxiety for years now – deprived of the slightest glimpse of pleasure.
A conservative, religious society by default, we Egyptians give significant portions of our incomes to charity. Nevertheless, parallel to charitable donations, large portions of our incomes go to what people may define as “tips” or “gifts”, but which in fact are much closer to being bribes than benevolent monetary gifts – the former help us to open life’s closed doors while the latter give us access to heaven according to our belief. The widespread prevalence of bribing and donating among Egyptians makes it difficult for many citizens to distinguish between the two actions.
“I pay bribes to get my missing rights” is how many Egyptians justify bribing, which has become a subjective matter, left to citizens’ judgment. The absence of proper laws and almost nonexistent law enforcement have created a situation in which each citizen defines justice from his own perspective and behaves in the manner that suits him best – to the extent that some of us believe that the sins we commit contribute to the good of society. Many Egyptians are trapped into a situation where they confuse what they personally define as ‘regaining their missing rights’ with what is in fact an ‘abuse of power’. Both practices should be condemned, legally and morally.
The spread of vice in our country is clearly threatening both the morality and modernization of Egyptian society; nevertheless, citizens’ justification of vice as being unavoidable makes it impossible to eradicate sinful behavior. Sin, naturally, wields more weight and its impact on society is much greater than virtue. Imagine that sinful and virtuous acts are taking place coincidently and equally; sinful behavior will rapidly penetrate and corrupt society, immediately undermining the rule of law. Virtue, in contrast, is more of a long-term effort whose effects are not instantly realized.
Individually, we Egyptians tend to justify our own sinful acts, while easily pointing out and denouncing the vices of our fellow citizens! The tendency to highlight the vices of others and not acknowledge our own misbehavior helps to spread sinful behavior across society. This paradoxical attitude works on eroding righteousness and virtuous behavior, regardless of their magnitude, eventually leading people to complain of the rising rate of sin in our society. Sadly (and of course falsely) Egyptians believe that their virtuous actions repeal their vices.
Human beings possess a combination of good and bad behaviors; they possess solid knowledge of a few topics and are significantly ignorant of many others. However, an ignorant, narrow-minded citizen who (strengthened by the belief that he is right) behaves badly – and is not even aware that he is committing a sin – certainly contributes to the spread of vice. We don’t notice that every single, tiny sinful action that each one of us commits accumulates, creating a society that is lacking in virtue – and which we eventually complain about. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government declines to play the role of mentor to stop the erosion of our moral social standards.
Bribing will continue to be a sin as long as a few citizens refuse to engage in the practice and are willing to live a less comfortable life in order to uphold their moral values and beliefs. Inhabiting a country in which corruption triggers every issue works on reinforcing vice, which naturally becomes a part of our daily routines – at the expense of virtue, obviously. People who believe that their ‘overwhelming’ virtuousness will absolve them of their sinful acts are indulging in wishful behavior that contradicts the reality where sinfulness is literally permeating the entire society. Attempting to manage and balance vice and virtue can only leave us living in a truly sinful society.