I often wonder why any Egyptian would condone the sickening torture inflicted on suspects in police stations, especially if these suspects are charged with crimes such as child molestation or rape. I often ask myself how people can so readily overlook the fact that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, after a fair trial. And how can they forget that the job of police officers is to ensure that the rights of suspects are guaranteed, and not to take it upon themselves to serve justice so brutally?
It seems that crude force is revered much more than the constitution, the law or even moral principles.
In the history of mankind, the phase of civilization refers to the emergence of a social order that allowed people to resolve their disputes and differences peacefully. In primitive societies, confined to wilderness and detached from arable land, violence was common, usually in savage ways. This brutality came under control with the advent of civilizations. The rise of institutions with clearly-stated laws, rules and procedures, and the development of moral and ethical points of reference rendered violence both prohibited and punishable.
The adoration of force is reminiscent of the age of barbarism, defined by conflict and force. As such, it alludes to the process of retreat from civilization.
The anarchy that dominates the Egyptian street is a vivid example of this retreat-from-civilization trend. Though traffic rules, for instance, exist, they are not even remotely applied, making Cairo s tightly-packed streets the arena of a war of all against all . In the absence of the state and its representatives, the rule of the jungle prevails; survival is certainly of the fittest , the more aggressive, the more violent.
The same trend is reflected in the spread of the baltaga (thuggery) phenomenon. Knowing that the state and its institutions are in many cases unable, or perhaps unwilling, to achieve justice and maintain order, some people decide to rely on crude force to regain their rights, or settle scores with adversaries. With time and practice, this approach has become to many the first option to be considered, not the last resort.
Another basic feature of civilized men and women is the ability to exercise self-restraint, which was conspicuously lacking during the Egypt-Algeria faceoff that followed the key match between the two countries national teams in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. The response of Egyptian media to the attacks on Egyptian fans in Sudan (and Egyptian interests in Algeria) was excessively emotional, amateurish, and hasty. Instead of rationally defining the problem and understanding its underlying causes, anger and frustration led many commentators to slide into diabolizing the other, indulging in acts of chauvinistic self-praise and even inciting violence.
On the popular Al-Qahira Al-Youm night show, one anchor – Ahmed Moussa -retorted to the first news of the attack on Egyptians in Sudan by unleashing the barbarous mindset usually hidden beneath the big smile and the fancy business suit. Our people are being attacked and killed in Sudan. There are Algerians living here in Egypt, we can attack them too, he said. Fortunately, his co-presenter, Amr Adib, could still be reasonable amidst this unrestrained folly. He quickly interrupted Moussa and asked him to focus on how to resolve the crisis, instead of initiating a new unnecessary – and unethical – one.
The ascendancy of a barbaric culture – one that values force and disregards laws and moral values – in Egyptian society is indeed alarming. Symptoms of this mindset are seen in the elections of professional syndicates and sports clubs. How, otherwise, could one interpret the rise of unqualified candidates, unless they have the ability to act like thugs, through using (or threatening to use) force, and intimidating rivals? Those who voted for these candidates were driven by the same mentality that, in the heat of the recent Egyptian-Algerian crisis, made many Egyptians ready to beat up any Algerian they can find in retaliation for what happened to our football fans.
During the recent Egyptian-Algerian media war, many in Egypt bragged about how civilized we are compared to other nations. Their point is valid. Egypt s chapter in the book of world civilizations is perhaps the longest.
But a new culture has been slowly creeping beneath the fabric of Egyptian society, a culture that admires crude power to the point of fascination, encourages aggressive attitudes and disrespects laws, regulations and ethics.
Our ancestors must be spinning in their graves.
Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo. He could be reached at: email@example.com