By Wael Eskandar
What’s happening in Egypt now is beyond dangerous for those willing to think it through. At first glance, the overwhelming support for President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi caused observers to envisage a stable outlook towards the country’s future. After all, Egyptians are willing to endure dire economic conditions because of their trust in the military running the country. But such an outlook would be far too nearsighted, as signs of failure permeate everyday Egyptian life.
There is a lot of talk about the economics of it all, but the primary manner of reasoning should focus on the social disparity within Egypt, which greatly contributed to the first wave of mass protests. Social here refers not only to the economic disparity, but a whole set of benefits afforded to a few over numerous others. The wealth gap is only the tip of the iceberg. There are other benefits that are hugely disproportionate among the population, and include education, pay, job opportunities, government positions, business opportunities, rights to fair trial and media exposure, all varying greatly based on factors such as sex, social class, geographic location, religion, colour, family connections and political beliefs.
The way things stand, there is no reason to believe that things will get better. Putting aside intricate theories that promote current policies; out of experience rather than theory, none of the economic policies that have been implemented before, whether in Egypt or other countries with a similar context, have brought on a positive change in terms of social rights or narrowing down the wealth gap largely responsible for the political tension in the country.
There is no denying that unemployment is prevalent and true job opportunities do not really exist. The job market may be providing jobs that do not fit the education levels, putting aside the discussion on quality. If this persists, it is only a matter of time before a largely disgruntled population, comprised primarily of youth, start to react collectively when they tire of waiting for things to get better.
It is reasonable to claim that the 25 January Revolution was a result of the social disparity described, but the way it panned out allowed the educated middle class to set the rhetoric and build a utopian dream of bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity. The overarching motivation for the protests was human dignity, but it was largely fuelled by these other factors, and the result was responsible protest, largely discriminatory towards the oppressor, with a collective sense of a greater good for a community that was being built. The context allowed for young people to take a higher moral ground, and for a while it was enough to bring down the oppressor’s flawed rhetoric.
But presently, things have changed. The flawed rhetoric lives on, and the crackdown on dissent has never been greater. State institutions are driven by a revenge agenda aimed to annihilate the dream of a democratic and corruption-free Egypt. Indeed, the plan to target that dream is working, leaving very little room for young people to exist within that space.
There is a move towards glorifying the state and accepting an undignified Egyptian citizen. This has turned the attention to bread and economic growth, sidelining freedom and human dignity. There is a danger that new forms of opposition may not care about ideals such as protests as a means of bringing about peaceful change, legitimate use of force monopolised by legitimate authorities, freedom of expression, rights to fair trials and transitional justice.
It’s only with the quest for dignity and justice for all that there is responsibility to protesting and affecting change justly. The true danger of killing the revolutionary dream is that the form of opposition will be more self-centred, more accepting to violence and bloodshed, less concerned with justice, and also driven by a revenge agenda. Such is what we’re seeing so far from some Islamists, who find no room within a peaceful camp to protest, radicalised each day by injustices they witness. Likewise we’re observing the radicalisation of ordinary citizens in North Sinai as they are being mistreated, degraded and evicted from their homes by the Egyptian state.
It may just be a matter of time before the populace becomes mobilised in a similar manner, not just with a chance to join radical Islamists, but through a different structure altogether, such as criminal gangs, or violent sabotage.
With failing executive, legislative and judiciary institutions, it is unlikely that it can be contained or redressed. For the state to survive, it has no option but to reform its institutions. Another way favoured so far to delay this is by creating an external enemy and perhaps even potential wars. But this will be a little snack and won’t hold off the inevitable hunger that will almost certainly manifest itself if the trajectory is not changed.
When Afghanistan rebels, backed by the US, managed to fight off Russian troops, the Americans would not invest in schools to address the damage caused by the war. The result? A deepening culture of militant Jihadism, which helped create a terror group, which has made the US pay dearly. The situation in Egypt is not as dire, but there is a lesson to be learned. No matter how much the influx of money through arms, or mega projects that do not support a culture of justice, education and addressing grave social inequalities, the societies left behind will never be better off than they were before.
The Egypt we see today can be transformed into a lawless land where not only state institutions run their own mafia, but ordinary citizens too, fighting for resources instead of organising their distribution. Investors will need to pay off more than just the corrupt government officials, and they would need better connections with more powerful groups in order to safeguard their businesses. The law can be used against any citizen, business owner or student to punish them rather than bring about rights. Citizens will find no refuge in law enforcement and will develop their informal security and enforcement networks.
These are the real dangers of constraining the space afforded by the explosion of 25 January 2011, and one need only look ahead a few steps in order to grasp the ease with which these dangers can realise their potential. By allowing injustices within Egyptian society to prevail, backers of the current regime are consenting to a higher possibility of instability, one that can manifest itself in very dangerous ways.
Those with power to change matters are currently supportive of short term economic gains through trade and investment at the cost of the stability and future of Egypt. Such backers include international governments who support a regime killing, incarcerating and intimidating agents of peaceful change.
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