By Wael Eskandar
The military has sent mixed messages about its miracle cure that allegedly cures both AIDS and hepatitis C. On the one hand, news published by Al-Watan highlights that former defence minister Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the validity of the cure, but in recent days despite the committee’s scepticism, there are more signs that the military is standing behind the invention with members of the research team adamant that the cure works.
It is useful to look at the claims of finding a cure for AIDS in a broader context than just as a medical advancement or even as means to promote the military, or as an isolated incident that does not relate to Egypt’s current state of affairs.
The claim that the military had found a cure for AIDS and hepatitis C was blatantly supported by state institutions and backed by various affiliates. This included official spokesman, media channels, various presenters loyal to the military institution, and a host of expert apologists. This kind of blind backing, which merits loyalty over values, is symptomatic of many of Egypt’s institutions, such as the police, judiciary, and other ministries.
Miracles aside, there can only be two explanations as to why the military has announced the cure. The first is that the army is willingly misleading people by offering false hope to millions of Egyptians infected with hepatitis C as a means of enhancing its image. The second is that the army itself was conned into thinking the cure exists.
Both explanations are damaging to the army’s image. The first would mean that the military is willing to cheat its people in order to establish itself as a saviour based on what it knows to be a false promise. This means that the military, which runs Egypt, is more interested in how it is perceived on the short run rather than how it functions.
The second scenario would imply that the military has no ability to process information efficiently or determine the truth about the projects presented to it. If the Egyptian army can be conned into thinking there is a cure for AIDS, then it is not competent enough to lead a country that requires far greater capabilities, particularly at a time of economic upheaval. It then becomes impossible to decipher the generals’ worldview and how disconnected they are from reality.
In any case, this promise was met with different reactions. There are two important reactions to consider. The first is the firm belief that the army pulled off this miraculous feat and the second, its counterpart, the reasonable certainty that the cure is nothing but a hoax.
It was telling from the start that the army was out of its depths when the cure was announced to be a product of the engineering corps. It did not instill much confidence either that the ministry of health proceeded with the procurement of a hepatitis C cure from abroad that was not related to the military. Despite these signs and more, many army supporters chose to believe in miracles.
In reality, irrespective of the cure itself, both positions are related to more than just the military promise of a miracle. The reactions reflect attitudes as to how much trust there is in the competency of the military to perform in other than its field of expertise.
There are a great many who see the army as the only functioning efficient institution that can deliver. They have hedged their bets on the military. Others see the military as an institution that ought to focus on its primary function of defending the country’s borders. They see the inevitability of the military’s failure in other fields much less delivering a miracle cure to the ailments of this country.
The promise of a saviour for Egypt is not unlike the promise to cure AIDS and hepatitis C, and indeed that promise has been made by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) when endorsing Al-Sisi to run for president. Both the AIDS cure and Al-Sisi are but symbols of the institution.
Egypt’s ailments run deep, and the military is seemingly insistent on running matters in much the same way it always has – through force, security, propaganda and abuse of power.
The more important question is whether the military’s promise of a better future for Egyptians will be as fictitious as its promise to cure hepatitis C. If handling the cure for AIDS and hepatitis C is anything to go by, it would seem that the military is mismanaging many other aspects of how the country is run behind the scenes.
So far the revolutionary youth have proven more competent than the military and its supporters at spotting the failed trajectory. The scientific and political communities have been unable – or perhaps unwilling – to confront such a blatant claim because of love or fear of the army.
But if the army has indeed been hoodwinked by the military’s research team, does Egypt’s future president have enough sense to understand that his military and other institutions are not capable of providing the required support in the face of the many problems Egypt is facing?
Disproving the cure is in itself inconsequential. By the time it is disproved, believers will have created excuses for the army and its symbol, Al-Sisi, and will have swallowed the official story whatever it may be. All this will drown all the “I told you so”s and focus will be shifted to other matters. The military’s promises will not be held to account by any state institution.
If there’s anything that’s certain about Egypt’s future in light of lies and crimes that have not been addressed adequately, it’s that state institutions will not hold one another accountable. Yet lack of accountability through formal channels has disastrous potential.
The bigger the promise, the bigger the disappointment. Each disappointment on its own may be forgiven, but the accumulation of promises – and hence disappointments – can cast a dark shadow over the competency of rulers. The people might pursue accountability eventually when all else fails. In the end, when the miracle cure is exposed as a scam, it will matter as a series of broken promises and let downs caused by regime propaganda. It will also matter to three in twenty Egyptians who are infected with hepatitis C – but perhaps not in a positive manner.
Wael Eskandar is an independent journalist and blogger based in Cairo. He is a frequent commentator on Egyptian politics and has written for Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Counterpunch, and Jadaliyya, among others. He blogs at notesfromtheunderground.net.