Imagining that the entire world revolves around Egypt, combined with our belief that we are always right, has kept Egyptians from coming to terms with universal political dynamics, leaving the entire population trapped within the boundaries of their unique—and false—convictions. Egyptians are “living in a shell” that they have built up around themselves and as long as we continue to deliberately maintain this “mental barrier”, we won’t be able to understand universal dynamics. Obviously, our incapacity to comprehend the thinking patterns and ethical values of others has impeded our ability to convey our perspectives to others sensibly and rationally.
Universal evolutions and developments are not of any great concern to the vast majority of Egyptians who generally prefer to stick with their own culture, norms, and thinking patterns—fair enough, really. The quandary lies in our belief as Egyptians that the entire world views its challenges from our same perspective. Egyptians do not lack exposure to other countries and cultures; our true shortcoming lies in our unwillingness to broaden our minds to recognise and comprehend the thinking mechanisms of other peoples and societies. Sadly, even those Egyptians who have lived abroad for many years share the same mindset.
Egyptians learn to frame and fragment the world according to their emotional perceptions, backed up by their personal beliefs—which are often far removed from reality. We have a tendency to ignore the fact that the world dynamic evolves and progresses quite rapidly and is completely different to our Egyptian cultural dynamic that, in fact, tends to be static. We are inclined to keep using our own thinking tools because they are familiar and convenient—regardless of whether or not they can effectively help us to explore and understand the universe. Moreover, attempting to advance our knowledge while continuing to live in our shell and to use our obsolete tools is further impeding our understanding of the dynamics of the world we inhabit.
When it comes to political challenges, we are strong proponents of the “conspiracy theory” phenomenon that causes Egyptians to perceive every single action undertaken by both friendly and hostile countries as part of a “hidden agenda” aimed at exploiting us. Egyptians believe the entire world is a game field for intelligence agencies that determine “who should do what” and that always manage to turn their goals into realities. Our ultimate objective, therefore, is to unthinkingly resist and reject whatever these players offer us. With only a few exceptions, this is the mindset adopted by Egyptian citizens at large, and by the state.
Many Egyptians perceived the recent US presidential elections as a struggle between a candidate who supports the Muslim Brotherhood and another who opposes it. A large segment of our society believes that the ruling regime in Egypt backed the candidate who does not favour the Brotherhood (disregarding his stated desire to punish the entire Muslim society in order to make America a safer place), thus increasing his chances of winning the election—completely ignoring the reality of American political dynamics, where the majority of voters are not in the least concerned with this issue.
Visitors who come to Egypt to explore our country and culture often fall victim to our dramatic cultural preferences; we expose them to the things that we like, regardless of their desires and interests. We tend to think that prompting others to dance to our loud music, offering them large quantities of food (no matter its quality), relating long-winded stories instead of being concise and to the point are all attributes that tourists are seeking in Egyptian culture, when in fact they are things that please us. Being proud of our traditions is natural and commendable, but to force them on others is foolishness.
Because we insist on abiding by, and clinging to, our personal expectations and thinking mechanisms—that are totally different to universal perceptions—the mental gap between us and the rest of the world is widening. I am aware that it will require a long time to modify and adapt a number of cultural issues and that discarding them immediately is quite difficult. Yet, we must begin to recognise that we are on the wrong track. We don’t have to adopt the thinking patterns of others, but we do need to admit that our thinking model isn’t functioning effectively and that it is certainly not helping us to understand other cultures.
Mohammed Nosseir is a liberal politician in Egypt, was a member of the Higher Committee, and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.