Do the ‘Right’ Thing, Egypt
On my way home from work recently, the usual insanity was unfolding. The insanity of driving in this country. With that fine intro, rest assured this isn’t about driving in Egypt. This is not the never ending copy of a copy of a copy of the article about “Driving in Egypt” you’ve seen plastered in every publication Egypt has ever produced.
Rather, it’s the psyche behind it that intrigues me. Where it came from. What it represents. And where it’s going. Let me just clear up the where it’s going part, so we can be done with it. It’s going nowhere or to hell. Whichever works for you.
To borrow yet another driving example – though this is not really about driving – I lived in Dubai for a couple of years back in 2006, and I have to say that during that time I have never – and I mean never ever – seen a driver run a red light or do something against the rules. Except once. The only time I saw it was when an Egyptian friend of mine was in his car beside me waiting for the light to turn green, and he just decided to not wait.
And this is indicative of something. If anything, it just says that the vast majority of us proud Egyptians shouldn’t really be so proud. I’m avoiding generalizing here, but we are for the most part – as a nation – a bunch of hooligans. Nothing more. Never mind how educated one is or which class one comes from, there is something fundamentally damaged in the Egyptian mind.
I had this debate before. It wasn’t really a debate, though. I kind of just scratched the surface of this argument, and got the response that it was all Hosni Mubarak’s fault. And just so we’re clear, this shallow debate occurred post Jan. 25, so naturally, it followed in the recurring theme of let’s blame it on the regime.
But its not that. It can’t be just that. Granted, education sucks in this country. Corruption was/is rampant in our society. But then again, there are many countries where education is not so great and corruption is the order of the day, yet do not suffer from the complete lack of civility we suffer from.
Without going into a sociopolitical analysis of what the hell went wrong, because I ain’t Gamal Himdan or Galal Amin, it seems that we as a nation lack that thing known as a social consciousness. You know what I’m talking about, right? That voice that talks to you in your head and tells you what’s right and what’s wrong. We don’t have that. It seems we are born with a dumb conscience and ears deaf to its pleading with us to do the “right” thing.
What strikes me as hilarious is that if you as an individual decide to do the “right” thing, you are automatically regarded by those around you as a complete idiot, loser, idealist, egomaniac who thinks he’s better than everyone else around him and before you know it, you’re cast out of society as an intruder.
Look around you and you’ll see it everywhere other than driving. In how people go about their jobs and their astounding ability to take any shortcut available. In how there is no dedication to anything they do (even sending a resume has become a process of attaching a poorly, horribly written pathetic excuse of a career to a blank email).
In how a plane full of Egyptian passengers is an airline’s worst nightmare (I still ask my self to this day why is it that they can’t sit in their damn seats until the plane has taxied and is standing still? Where will they go, luggage in hand, if the plane is still moving and the doors are sealed?).
How Egyptians are incapable of standing in a queue and waiting for their turn (Someone always, every single time, has to think he’s smarter than everyone else and try some childish trick to get ahead).
Maybe it’s because parents don’t teach their children what is right and what is wrong? That may be true, but how blurred is right and wrong when it comes to, for instance, throwing your garbage infested McDonald’s bag out of a moving car – a BMW – window in the middle of the road?
Not only that, but when that BMW has an AUC bumper sticker on it, then what does parenting have to do with your sense of right and wrong? And when that BMW with the AUC bumper sticker is being driven by a girl in Maadi, is it still bad parenting that made her do that? And let me take a moment to, again, point out that this isn’t about driving, at all.
No, it’s not. It’s about the complete apathy brought on by the simple fact that actions such as these have no consequences whatsoever. And before you start chiming on about how the government isn’t enforcing the law, that is not what I’m talking about at all, though it is very relevant.
I’m talking about the unspoken law of society and behavior. In most pseudo-civilized countries, that person who threw the McDonald’s bag out of the window would have been called out by at least a few people, or taken to the nearest police station and thrown in jail, or made to pay a fine of some sort.
But here, that’s not the case. It’s more of a collective state of apathy, which everyone is clamoring to be a part of. What’s even more disturbing is that when someone does that type of thing, its more of an “everybody’s doing it, why shouldn’t I?” syndrome than anything else, which has been taken to a whole new level of “if I don’t do this kind of thing, people will think I’m an alien, so might as well do it.”
And like I said in the beginning, just so we’re clear, we are going nowhere or to hell, depending on the optimism – or lack thereof – by which you approach life in general.
Therefore, please don’t expect anything from any government, president, prime minister. As long as there is no social consciousness that moves us as a people, then there is no solution any man is capable of finding to right the many wrongs in this country.
Let’s be clear on the fact that this isn’t about enforcing the law. This isn’t about the government’s fiscal policies. This isn’t about economic reform and the trickling down of wealth. It isn’t about Sisi or Sabbahi or whoever. This isn’t something a thousand protests will resolve. This also won’t be resolved by a redistribution of wealth or more taxes on the rich or running water and electricity or whether we use coal or diesel.
It’s not about a revolution to “save the country”, it should be more of a revolution of individual change. If that happens, there will be hope that Egyptians begin to fathom the concept otherwise known to man as common decency.
How that will happen, I have no idea.
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Ibrahim Makami is a professional business writer/editor and corporate communications specialist, who occasionally writes about Egypt and its more colorful aspects and whose realism is often confused for pessimism. Like everyone in the country post Jan25, he is just another Egyptian who claims – emphasis on claims – to understand politics. He doesn’t believe in moderation (it’s for cowards) and thinks the world will explode pretty soon.