“Offer me a carbonated soft drink, and you can stay here” was a shocking phrase that I heard from a member of former president Hosni Mubarak’s security apparatus as I was waiting for a friend to pick me up in one of the most crowded streets in Cairo, close to the president’s residence. After hearing this statement, I felt that if I had treated the security guard to a hot meal, I could have gotten into the president’s residence itself. This story, and plenty of others, summarises the degree of corruption and deficiency that has infiltrated the working of every single entity in Egypt, including entities that are often referred to as the “highest authorities”.
“Achieve more by doing less” is a prevalent mental outlook, but also expresses Egyptians’ desire to work less and earn more. Their belief that God protects and supports Egypt has prompted Egyptians to loosen up and slack off, whereas, to truly deserve his blessing, God probably would like us to abide by significantly higher professional standards. With every single terrorist attack, several thoughts cross my mind regarding our share of the responsibility to prevent such assaults; does our laidback attitude and rampant corruption give terrorists a window of opportunity? Could we reduce terrorism if we behave more professionally?
We Egyptians are known for our reckless attitude wherein we don’t sense the urgency in the most critical of issues; we don’t even know how to differentiate between ordinary matters and urgent ones. The state’s employees who account for nearly one-third of the Egyptian labour force are preoccupied with how to enhance their parallel incomes—usually through means that definitely affect their work performances. Additionally, with the advent of social media, large numbers of our working force (both public and private) spend most of their working days socialising on their mobile phones.
Some people argue that security gaps enable terrorists to break through security controls repeatedly. I will argue beyond that; it’s not only a security leakage, it is more a matter of cultural deficiency that the entire society (inclusive of the security apparatus, obviously) needs to address seriously. We are a laidback society that is not sufficiently firm in serious matters. This irresponsible attitude also undermines many of the issues that we deal with daily. Meanwhile, corruption has managed to penetrate the entire society, and has become, unfortunately, a cultural trait.
Some Egyptian officials argue that overcoming the challenges we are up against is beyond the capacity of the Egyptian state, and therefore, treachery often exists in different areas. In fact, this argument summarises our mentality of failure; it takes no notice of the fact that the obsolete mechanism we have been using for decades is benefiting large numbers of corrupt people at the expense of establishing a truly efficient society. Those who defend the current status quo should not be in charge.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has often displayed a firm attitude regarding issues related to Egyptian sovereignty. While this is a blessing, the president needs, more importantly, to enforce firmness in dealing with state executives (across all governmental entities) who are reluctant to impose genuinely professional rules of conduct. Egypt’s challenges are not often external; what we are facing now is an internal challenge that we must address by being disciplined.
We are a nation that declines to recognise its mistakes in order to correct them. Official entities always claim that while they punish the transgressions and omissions committed by their executives, they do not want to publicise this fact to maintain high morale among their executives. I beg to differ; the state not only needs to be firm, it also needs to send a strong, explicit message to its laidback executives. We should not have to tolerate the justification of unprofessional conduct and corruption and any misconduct must be made known to the public.
To achieve this state of professional integrity, the Egyptian state needs to address all issues fairly and firmly, giving a clear message to all citizens (and to its employees, in particular) that it will no longer tolerate carelessness and reckless attitudes. It needs to increase awareness among Egyptians that all citizens, regardless of their positions, will be held accountable for their work. Egyptian executives working in crucial entities should earn sufficient salaries to keep them from falling victim to any misalignment. In return, the state must apply extremely strict regulations to control its executives’ professional conduct in their place of employment.
Mohammed Nosseir is a liberal politician in Egypt, was a member of the Higher Committee, and headed international relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.