Egypt is at a crossroads between rhetoric and reality

For the past few years, the Egyptian State has been intensely devoted to fighting terrorism, which has been a clear and present danger with some potential for turning Egypt into a flailing State. Although terrorists have managed to carry out  moderate level acts mainly in dispersed isolated areas of Egypt, terrorism is now declining significantly. In any case, Egypt is not a nation that can be dragged down by terrorism; a proposition that  is clearly condemned by the majority of citizens. Our risk of becoming a flailing State may lie elsewhere.

The risk of Egypt being transformed into a flailing State arises from two main factors; the substantial decline of the economy that could prompt the masses to revolt (even in the knowledge that they are risking their lives), and the overrated State entities that are supposed to prevent all potential uprisings. These two elements have been intensifying silently but considerably, and the interaction between them could easily lead to widespread chaos that would be difficult to contain.

Uplifting the economy of a nation like Egypt with its illiterate, unproductive human capital requires substantial and consistent scientific efforts – an issue that our government is not addressing and appears not to even notice. Naturally, many additional factors that could drag nations down rather than uplift them exist in Egypt as well! The government’s inefficient economic machine is operating in reverse; it is fed by citizens’ unproductive energy, which further slows down its operation.

The fact that Egypt is a nation that consumes more than it produces, coupled with the price hikes that all citizens are confronting daily, mean that Egyptians spend their entire incomes in the early days of each month. These deteriorating economic conditions might stimulate the Egyptian masses to different kinds of disobedience, not necessarily revolution. Meanwhile, the Egyptian State’s continuous warnings about wielding its iron-fist will be useless in the face of masses angered by poverty.

Instead of seriously revisiting its political and economic policies, the Egyptian State continually uses a fantasy rhetoric according to which Egypt is in a better situation than many of its neighboring nations. This rhetoric, consistently featured in the State media and widely circulated in social media, is an argument that could be debated among pundits. For the vast majority of Egyptians what matters is to be able to feed their families; people who simply want to survive will take no notice of State rhetoric.

President Al Sisi is doing his utmost to strengthen Egyptian State entities, but his efforts have so far concluded in over-authorizing many State entities instead of establishing a truly functioning government that can move the economy forward. Statesmen who presently enjoy superior citizen status are obviously self-serving, reckless citizens exerting only minimum efforts to boost the nation’s economy.

Meanwhile, Egyptians at large believe that State entities are corrupt, working only to serve their entourage. In short, the entities that govern Egypt and are supposed to lead and influence society are badly perceived by citizens. When worse comes to worst, government cadres will completely despair – as previously observed during the 25 January 2011 revolution. Moreover, the persistent depoliticizing of Egyptians and efforts to distance citizens from the political scene constitutes an additional factor that contributes to worsening conditions.

There are many indications that large segments of society are not happy with the current political and economic conditions; a large portion of our youth is unemployed, as well as completely marginalized politically, and their discontent is reinforced by an economic crisis that affects all citizens. The government meanwhile believes that Egypt is moving from one glorious success to another. Depending on which of the two parties manages to realize its perspective, Egypt will either head towards a massive rebellion or finally settle down.

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How to reverse the decline in Egypt’s morality

As their citizens evolve, nations’ cultural norms go through clear ups and downs. The dilemma in Egypt is that morality is on a sharp downward trend with no sign of a possible change of course. We Egyptians used to abide by a significant set of moral values that used to constitute a common ethical dominator – among rich and poor, well-educated and illiterate. Today, the values that we had happily espoused for centuries have deteriorated seriously, reaching a risky low level of immorality.

One of our main morality dilemmas is our overconfidence in our individual perspectives concerning righteousness and sin. Certain behaviors and practices that in the eyes of a given group of Egyptians are absolutely perfect may be perceived to be completely indecent by others, who share the same background. Each Egyptian citizen operates according to his or her own “manual” of what they define as moral values; there no longer appears to be a common norm that is shared by the entire society.

People normally need to have a clearly defined moral framework and guideline that they can follow. This does not currently exist in Egypt – and it is probably absent on purpose! Alternatively, or even ahead of applying a moral guideline, Egypt needs proper law enforcement that, if well-applied, will certainly fine-tune citizens’ behaviors. This kind of government failing in the fields of law enforcement and morality has left the entire Egyptian population to move unguided in a grey area of immorality and unapplied laws.

The Egyptian State often argues that it is doing its best to rule and stabilize Egypt and its large population, while some pundits believe that our deteriorating morality is due to our accumulating economic challenges and the substantial increase of our population. In fact, I believe that the decline in our moral values is the result of the defects in the present government’s approach to ruling its citizens. Poverty and illiteracy are common socioeconomic factors that have existed in our history for centuries; nevertheless, even when both were in effect, individual citizens used to apply a high degree of morality.

Egyptians who believe that they are abiding by a perfect set of moral values are often comparing their adopted value standards to those of others who obviously suffer from a deficiency of moral values. However, with the mean bar of moral values set so low, the few who feel that they are morally superior are still not complying with the minimum prerequisites of morality. Meanwhile, the application of moral standards functions best when we are certain we can escape the legal consequences of our wrongdoings, yet refrain from unethical behavior that doesn’t comply with our moral values. In Egypt, however, our immorality works to manipulate the rule of law.

The Egyptian State has for decades been prompting individual citizens to look after their personal business interests, period. This has created a social condition in which Egyptians are fully occupied with maximizing their personal earnings, neglecting to apply any kind of morality. Citizens don’t even notice their moral failings – especially when they observe the clearly immoral behavior of many Egyptian celebrities (politicians, wealthy citizens, artists, famous professionals, etc.).

The creation of this kind of individualistic understanding of morality and immorality has generated an immoral, chaotic nation of low integrity where law enforcement is weak and wherein each citizen justifies his or her immoral act and accuses the rest of society of being unethical. Meanwhile, the inadequate and dysfunctional rule of law that triggers citizens to commit minor wrongdoings can eventually empower them to undertake immoral acts that may entail illegal activity.

To regain our lost moral values, we need to work in a different direction involving leadership, law enforcement and the development of personal awareness. Executives in various positions need to set the example by implementing moral standards and explaining the benefits of morality for individuals and society. Meanwhile, proper application of the rule of law will certainly fine-tune citizens’ behaviors by prompting them to promote righteousness in society, regardless of its personal returns. Egyptians need to realize that a moral society will serve them better.

Egypt’s fake news the product of citizens’ fake lives

In a recent announcement, President Al Sisi stated that the Egyptian State has had to deal with a total of twenty-three thousand rumors in the course of the past three months. The fake news phenomenon that seriously disturbs the Egyptian State is a tool that is also used by the State; it prods Egyptians to live a fake life to which each citizen contributes which results in demoralizing the entire society.

In Egypt, the magnitude and widespread use of rumors is a cultural trait that is equally endorsed by both our government and our people. We Egyptians genuinely enjoy exaggerated narratives and rumors; we circulate them amongst ourselves, each citizen adding an extra embellishment. Many of the circulated stories may actually be based in fact – but they end up in the form of wild fictional narratives that provide greater enjoyment to citizens.

The dilemma in Egypt is that we don’t only produce fake news; we have a fake living reality in which fake news functions as a communication tool! The fake reality that we live by produces many misunderstandings and inaccuracies, such as false hopes, misinterpretation of facts, and endorsement of fantasia, the negative impact of some of which is far greater than that of fake news. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government is happy to maintain a false narrative that endorses the government’s propositions and tends to only complain about viewpoints that are critical of them.

The Egyptian State believes that it can deal with fake news by assigning a hotline for citizens to use to inquiry about the truth and to check the accuracy of any circulated narratives – a scheme that could be successful in a “fully-fledged society”, but not in Egypt where citizens enjoy inflated stories. The hotline solution illustrates how the State tends to tackle its challenges by focusing on the symptoms while ignoring the causes. Opting to address these causes would strengthen citizens’ trust in the government – which is currently sorely lacking.

Egyptians are presently living in a polarized country wherein fake news is the only tool available to the conflicting parties. The government tends to exaggerate its achievements with the aim of bolstering citizens’ attachment to their country, while opposition forces are unable to play any role in the development of their country other than to criticize the government and create counter fake stories. Sadly, and to the detriment of genuine national progress, fake news is the only popular product of both groups.

The Egyptian State believes that fake news is a fundamental component of what it often describes as the “electronic war” being waged on Egypt by a number of regional nations. Nations that harbor political disagreements with Egypt probably do exert efforts and allocate some funds to expand this kind of battle; however, they do so by capitalizing on and fueling our already existing sociopolitical dynamic – which they did not create. Additionally, Egypt, with its large population and its love of rumors, could easily use the same tool to counterattack its rivals.

We are not a nation that knows how to employ citizens constructively in projects that consume their energy and maximize our national revenue. We don’t work on changing governments to give critics the opportunity to assume power and either prove to be successful or confront their failures. As a result, we are left with a single tool; creating and spreading fake news – the “phony reality” that we Egyptians have articulated and whose consequences we must bear.

The Egyptian State is certainly facing many complicated challenges that clearly work on distancing citizens from reality, unintentionally in some cases, by design in many others. Expanding our phony style of living will not resolve our present economic difficulties; the best method for dealing with fake news is to genuinely engage Egyptian citizens in their country’s national challenges. Only by confronting living reality openly and directly will Egypt be able to reduce the impact of fake news.

Dominance of Arab masculinity must be challenged

Masculinity in the Arab World is a dominant phenomenon that is falsely overrated by society. We tend to associate power with masculinity, unnecessarily strengthening and privileging males at the expense of females. Power today no longer comes in the shape of a hardcore masculine machine that requires considerable physical effort; it has emerged as a software application driven by innovation and technology in which physical masculine power is superfluous.

Beyond its gender definition, masculinity is an Arab cultural phenomenon created and advocated for by Arab males in order to acquire substantial privileges.  For centuries, Arab males have been working on optimizing their natural masculinity, leaving our female spouses to submit to the role of inferior gender in our society. Moreover, females eventually tend to adhere to this cultural trait and to raise their children with the same understanding.

Many feminists are willing to comply with the concept of masculine superiority as long as it includes an element of decency in dealing with women. However, our living reality shows that when females over-empower their male partners and are forced into the role of clear followers, the situation can easily and unconsciously evolve into one that involves harsh male attitudes and distressed females. The role of family caretaker that many Arab women find comfortable may eventually turn into a heavy burden that places them squarely in the position of blind followers.

Many Arab females tend to rely on their male spouses, believing that their respective male partners are better able to handle most of our life challenges. However, the only element of truth in this proposition is that we males have designed our work dynamics to accommodate us better than they do our female partners. This situation could be easily altered and made more suitable to both genders by offering women a decent method to commute, work and socialize – without being exposed to any male pressure or abuse.

Many successful Arab marriages are built upon a clear division of family responsibilities; husbands are responsible for meeting their families’ financial needs and wives are the caretakers of homes and children. However, dividing marriage responsibilities means that we are not capitalizing on both partners’ utmost competences, either in bringing up children or in securing earnings. In fact, alternating between female and male duties will certainly give children a better childhood as well as offer the family more financial security.

In my country Egypt, women who work outside of the home have to live with the natural challenges of their work, along with confronting many indecent attitudes at the workplace and, eventually, be fully responsible for running their households and raising their children. In many poor neighborhoods, the men tend to rely on their wives’ incomes, spending their days and nights at coffee shops! Nonetheless, the men in these neighborhoods still enjoy a clear superior status over their female spouses – who value their “masculine” protection against wide exposure to male harassment.

The Lord created Adam and Eve who shared equal life responsibilities; what has happened since then is the evolution of diversified cultures that have empowered the male over the female gender due to the need for physical power that was required centuries ago. Whereas nowadays we refuse to recognize the obvious possibility of alternating “male” and “female” duties i.e. career women and husbands who take care of the house and children (children only need to be fully cared for by their mothers during early childhood).

The over-empowerment of men and the undermining of women’s role in our society is a clear defect that negatively affects both genders and hinders social progress.  Many females around the world have fought for their rights, not only by advocating, but also and more prominently by proving themselves in various work places, demonstrating that they can work at the same jobs as men and even do it better. Men will not give up their cultural superiority voluntarily; Arab women must gently challenge them in order to live fruitful and meaningful lives.

How academia can become more beneficial to Egypt

Knowledge is the foundation of any nation that desires to achieve true progress! Although knowledge in itself constitutes the highest aspiration for any human being, nations should have a different goal; that of optimizing knowledge to best serve their citizens – which is not the case in Egypt. Knowledge is our lifeblood and our government should ensure that it continues to flow and flourish.

In Egypt, the education system and business operation are two completely different dynamics. Far from benefitting one another, they tend to pursue separate paths that cross only once every summer when university graduates eagerly seeking employment pour onto the job market. Meanwhile, companies are looking to hire employees with specific skills and personalities that are appropriate to the real-life work environment, irrespective of their scholastic knowledge.

The academia challenge in Egypt does not concern the various courses of study on offer; rather, it lies in the prevalent attitude toward education wherein many faculty members believe that academically successful students are an achievement per se – regardless of whether or not their studies eventually benefit their respective communities. No one in our education system is interested in exploring the relevancy or the suitability of subjects taught at our universities to the needs of the work market.

The success of Egyptian private enterprises is due to their talent for maximizing their profits in a ruined market that works with a mechanism and tools that have nothing to do with knowledge. Thus, rather than hiring graduates who can make use of the advanced knowledge they acquired at universities to better serve their employers, these enterprises look for new graduates who can fit into their working structures.

Meanwhile, our high school graduates, supported by their families, often make the mistake of enrolling in faculties determined either by their school degree grades or based on unrealistic emotional desires. At that age, students cannot make mature choices and are not familiar with the reality of work demands, while their parents often want to impose their own narrow personal educational desires. This dilemma results in having hundreds of thousands Egyptian university graduates every year who are searching for a job that is frequently not linked to their studies.

The thousands of students that our State universities are forced to enroll every year, along with the very minimal student fees charged, has led to the complete deterioration of our educational mechanism (curricula, quality of faculty members, university facilities – and the list goes on). This constitutes a costly burden on both our government and our society; university graduates are eager to obtain higher degrees to differentiate themselves from high school graduates, but they are still lacking in substantive knowledge.

The clear alternative to this dilemma was the spread of private universities, inaugurated a few decades ago with the intention of attracting wealthy students whose families could pay noticeably higher fees. These universities may provide significantly better facilities – but not necessarily a better education. To attract wealthy students, private universities have commercialized their educational programs by giving their universities attractive foreign names, accompanied with false or exaggerated claims of affiliation with renowned international universities.

Egypt currently has a number of private universities that better fit into the reality of our work market – both (the market and the universities) are commercially driven and have a limited knowledge base. One of the results is that Egyptian business enterprises are unable to produce products that can compete with those of other developing nations. Egypt’s evolution is presently far removed from any form of genuine development. To achieve true progress, education and employment structures need to be well-integrated and they must be driven by knowledge and merit.

Talented Lebanese must be given chance to help nation

At a meeting that I attended with a number of international directors who work for a leading global business enterprise we realized that the corporation deals with large numbers of business partners of Lebanese descent who live in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Lebanese immigrants are widespread across all continents and a significant number of them has had very successful careers heading large corporations – and even as Heads of State.

Many international enterprises and foreign nations have offered Lebanese citizens real opportunities for success and prosperity that they have managed to make the most of, opportunities that their loving homeland declines to offer. Nevertheless, Lebanon still possesses many talented citizens who prefer to stay home and make the best out of it. Lebanon has gone through intensive civil war and has been militarily abused by neighboring nations. As a result, four and half million Lebanese live in their country and roughly fourteen million are living abroad.

Lebanon’s dilemma lies in its inability to exploit Lebanese talents, both within its borders and abroad, to build their country. Lebanon possesses all the necessary ingredients to be a developed nation; its citizens are quite proficient, it has considerable natural resources and a large portion of the population is quite wealthy. The nation could easily attract substantial foreign investments to better develop its tourism industry facilities and thus receive more tourists.

Integrating these factors together will certainly transform the nation. However, the country lacks both the political will and the leadership capable of accomplishing this mission. Lebanese politicians are quite open to listening to advice proffered by international economic institutes that could help move their country forward, but achieving consensus among these politicians on any given economic scheme is beyond a “mission impossible”. Thus, numerous ideas land in and leave the nation, without being subjected to any kind of serious consideration.

Lebanon’s current rhetoric is the setting up of a new cabinet in which each political force is demanding a given number of ministerial seats (the combination of their demands far exceeds the existing number of ministerial positions). Observing the Lebanese media during a recent visit to Beirut made me feel that Lebanon, along with its citizens, should be grateful to its political forces for establishing a government – an approach to political accountability that is the reverse of that in many democratic nations.

Meanwhile, all Lebanese citizens agree that a number of foreign nations are influencing the forming of their government. Regardless of the factual weight of this belief, foreign nations certainly don’t micro-governor Lebanese politics; the responsibility for investment expansion and attracting tourists falls to the coalition government that will hopefully be formed soon. Nonetheless, apart from the disputable foreign factor, Lebanese citizens, who tend to be individualistically driven, may be the real obstacle to the solution of their challenges.

Apparently, all Lebanese citizens, regardless of their political ideology or ethnicity, admire Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (assassinated), who exerted genuine efforts to reconstruct the country and managed to move the nation forward based on a clear political stance and consensuses among all political parties – a proposition that Lebanon lacks presently. Hariri’s footprints are easily identifiable in numerous Beirut venues.

Airports often provide me with the final impression on how nations are governed. After standing over an hour in the passport control queue (which could have easily been avoided by appointing additional passport control officers), I was astonished to find that the VIP lounge at the Beirut airport was unnecessarily spacious, with plenty of unused space. To me, this signaled that the government is not eager to ease tourists’ experience by reducing queue time, but it is keen to offer an extra comfortable lounge to elite travelers.

Lebanon needs to move from its current static politics towards a more dynamic model! The most urgent political step is to establish a functioning government in which competence – not adherence to the current political obligation towards various political forces – is the driving force. This can easily be done while completely complying with the Taef Agreement. Lebanon is in desperate need of a “new Rafik Hariri”. Many Lebanese citizens certainly possess the necessary characteristics, but the current political structure denies them the opportunity. Until this hindrance is overcome, the country might be living with the same challenges for years to come.

Egyptian work ethic needs a lot of work

The Egyptian government’s rhetoric on productivity usually emphasizes that we are a poor nation wherein the State bears the financial responsibility for its citizens – a philosophy that often prompts State employees to “while away” their working hours instead of maximizing their inputs! Our government does not offer any policy to stimulate its employees’ productivity; on the contrary, our excessive bureaucracy works on reducing employee efforts. Meanwhile, Egyptians see resources as a means to fulfill personal desires rather than achieve specific goals.

The fact that Egypt’s workforce represents nearly one-fourth of our population, combined with the government’s inability to create sufficient new jobs contribute to our low productivity. The Egyptian workforce tends to exert only the minimum effort required to keep the boat floating; it is neither eager to take part in any kind of boat race or concerned with the boat’s punctual arrival at its destination. Furthermore, by promoting them based on seniority rather than on productivity, we demotivate our employees from enhancing their production.

Productivity may be defined as the maximum use of time, energy and resources. In Egypt, we simply tend to misuse these three factors, declining to push ourselves to exert our utmost effort, because a minimal effort is sufficient to ensure our survival. Moreover, the absence of accountability encourages many to spend their working hours on leisure activities, a work attitude obviously implying that our government needs to establish a policy to prompt citizens to make the best use of these three factors – which it has failed to do.

Instead of stimulating people to work more and earn more, the Egyptian government is very determined to apply an economic policy geared toward regulating the economy with the clear intention of controlling it in order to realize its economic growth targets. The government tends to overburden its employees with irrelevant bureaucratic tasks that may only be overcome through bribery, making our business transactions more complicated and costly – and granting a clear advantage to citizens who know how to deal with this system.

Meanwhile, Egyptian enterprises often work on advancing their respective executives’ technical knowledge, which in fact is quite adequate in many fields; what we lack is a positive work attitude! A large segment of our labor force spends its working hours navigating social media instead of doing their jobs. Sadly, entertaining ourselves during working hours, unaware of the drawbacks, is an essential part of our culture!

Egyptian society is not driven by specific goals or achievements. We don’t hold our employees accountable for their outputs. Embellished by bureaucracy, this work mechanism is widely applied in the public sector and, to a great extent, in the private sector (for the sentimental reason of not leaving citizens jobless). Thus, our employees tend to gauge the number of working hours as clear achievements and decline to take any responsibility for their work output, claiming that it is influenced by many factors beyond their control.

The Egyptian government needs to work on extracting maximum ideas and energy from its employees. Advancing the technical know-how of government employees will not stimulate them to produce more. We must establish a clear correlation between employees’ outputs and their respective incomes. This will require clear job descriptions and a scientific measurement of work outputs – a policy area that our government needs to revisit.

Egypt’s main problem isn’t whether it is a rich or poor country; the real challenge lies in our policy with regards to maximizing citizens’ productivity. We need to teach employees that productivity is an essential part of a citizen’s dignity. Egyptian employees need to be educated to think before they act and to aim clearly at producing functional outputs – not justified inputs. Our path towards becoming a developed nation is through advancing Egyptian workforce productivity while simultaneously applying appropriate economic policies.