The political phenomenon of social mobilization is not a new challenge for Egypt, but the method changes depending on the regime in power. Some governments tend to work on manipulating the masses while others believe that controlling the entire society helps them maintain a strong grip! A large nation such as Egypt needs to be framed either by fair law enforcement or by an explicit political mechanism. What really matters is how successful the ruling regime is in achieving its goals!
Culturally and operationally, Egyptians tend to prefer controlling society to manipulating the masses. Having a “captain on board” gives Egyptian politicians a strong feeling of control over society; the captain can steer the ship toward its target destination. Manipulation, on the other hand, is more about the talent to win over affiliates (and to some extent opponents) to a clear goal by building on one another’s strengths and inspiring society with a clear vision.
Manipulation needs numerous talented politicians, while exerting control requires a single commander with exclusive power. Many Egyptian politicians believe that controlling society is the utmost power, whereas in fact, manipulation is the ultimate hidden power – but it requires specific personality traits that are not often available. The methodology of control relies on almost eliminating individual citizens’ intelligence and absolute guidance by the State’s power, whereas manipulation works on mobilizing citizens toward a certain goal and ensuring their strong sense of allegiance to this goal.
Former President Hosny Mubarak was a good manipulator. He used to hire a number of intelligent politicians who were talented in manipulating their minions and Mubarak himself manipulated these key manipulators. President Al Sisi clearly prefers the controller approach, holding all the reins and meeting with his executives regularly to ensure that they are applying his vision precisely. Mubarak used to rule from a distance, while Al Sisi is often on top of issues and officials.
Our current preference for the controlling method of mobilization has negatively affected our regional leverage, which needs pure manipulation. We used to contain and influence a number of regional countries by offering a solid perspective and persuading them to adopt a common goal. Obviously, we cannot control other nations; thus, after losing our talented political manipulators, our regional clout has diminished greatly.
In the current era where Internet and social media play a significant role in shaping society’s thought patterns, manipulation is certainly a more appropriate method than control. Opposing arguments spread over social media networks often attack the mechanism of control, weakening the controlling ruler’s hold on the reins and, consequently, his grip on power. Manipulation, in contrast, views social media as a contender; thus, it works on mobilizing citizens by presenting effective threads and content.
The major disadvantage of social mobilization through control occurs when the commander loses his grip over society, leaving multitudes of unguided citizens to be driven by their limited capacity, disrupting society. Manipulation, however, leaves enough room for citizens to think and act on their own and to work for the benefit of our nation – there is even room for accepting and adopting their efforts and initiatives. Many of today’s politicians who wholeheartedly support the President and feel that they are strengthening his administration are actually dragging the regime down.
In Egypt, we are quite behind in determining whether our operating method is functioning effectively. Egyptian politicians tend to work with the technique with which they are familiar and comfortable – which is not necessarily the most appropriate method for our current challenges or for the present era. In my view, politics is about manipulation; our politicians need to convince their followers of their vision, period. The current operational method of controlling society is not fitting for the present time; sooner or later, its drawbacks will manifest themselves.