Egyptians are by nature patriotic. They grumble about governments, wages, high prices, traffic, and poor educational standards; they’ll turn out to protest at the drop of a hat, but most will tell you their country is the Umm El Dunya, the “Mother of the World.”
They’ve survived an attempt by the armies of Britain, France and Israel to reassert authority over the Suez Canal in 1952. They remained faithful to President Jamal Abdel-Nasser even as the nation licked its wounds following the disastrous 1967 war with Israel. They fought like lions in 1973 when the brave citizens of Ismailia, armed only with rudimentary weapons, caused an Israeli tank corps to flee from their streets. They’re known all over the Arab World for their ability to crack jokes even during the darkest days. So why is it that some Egyptians now seem intent on holding the country hostage to their own agendas?
All the essential ingredients necessary for Egypt to flourish are in place. The roadmap is moving forward as planned. A committee representing all shades of society is voting on various articles of the new constitution that will be put to referendum and is said to entrench unconditional “human dignity.” Parliamentary elections are scheduled for later this year to be followed by a presidential election next spring.
Thanks to the generosity of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, the economy is in no danger of an imminent collapse, the Egyptian pound is stable and the bourse is doing better than expected. The minimum wage, in both government and private sectors, is to be raised along with pensions. Tuition fees have been waved for students in schools and universities. Moreover, a new economic stimulus package worth $4.3 billion will be put to building new roads and bridges, reclaiming agricultural land, potable water and sanitation, modernizing power grids and railway lines—and to develop the long-neglected Sinai Peninsula.
Yes, Egypt is currently experiencing one of the worst crises in its latter-day history. But it’s a man-made crisis elicited by a minority of disgruntled elements who’ve decided it’s their way or the highway—or, to be more precise, if they cannot impose their will on the majority, they will use force against the authorities and their fellow citizens to bring Egypt to its knees. This is nothing short of selfishness in the extreme.
They care not one jot about those dependent on tourism to feed their families when they plan mayhem, frightening foreign visitors and investors away. They care not who they inconvenience when they block roads and place bombs on train tracks leading to the cancelation of all services or disrupt university campuses, depriving serious students of education.
And what do they want? The return of a failed president unable to deliver even the basics, such as gas, petrol and electricity, a leader who ran down the foreign reserves to an untenable $14 billion and, worse, took his orders from the spiritual head of a party from which he resigned just prior to taking office. Is that the person they want re-installed in the presidential palace, a man who led the country to the brink of bankruptcy?
Why isn’t their anger directed at Mursi? He had his chance and he blew it; he’s the person who let them down, not the 30 million-plus who showed their displeasure on June 30, many of whom—including liberals, academics and secularists—actually voted for him in June 2012. When the popular wave came his way, he could have called for elections and stepped down instead of saying, it’s either blood or me. The pro-Mursi camp hasn’t been excluded from the political arena; they’ve excluded themselves by sticking to their ridiculous demands and, due to their continued destructive actions, the people are turning against them in droves. Who are they serving; certainly not the state or the Egyptian people?
And the so-called “Third Square” made up of educated activists and intellectuals seeking a Utopian system of governance in one day and one night; individuals against the Muslim Brotherhood as well as military rule aren’t doing the country any favor either. Military rule and emergency law are temporary measures to ensure safety and security for ordinary folk going about their business.
The army presence may have saved the nation from erupting in a bloody civil war, but rather than exercise patience, activists use media interviews to undermine the efforts of the military and the interim government that are working hard to deliver some kind of normality in a world gone mad; those institutions aren’t staffed by saints, mistakes have been made, but overall they’re doing the best they can under the circumstances. The popular host of CBC’s El Bernameg, political satirist Bassem Youssef, is a case in point. His show returned to the airwaves last Friday following a three-month hiatus. It promised to be controversial. It was. He used his platform to ridicule the army and mock its chief Gen. El-Sisi at a time when soldiers are being killed and injured by terrorist groups in Sinai. Faced with thousands of complaints lodged with the Public Prosecutor, he’s apologized for crossing the line.
If only Egyptians would join hands to build. If only they would quit making endless demands until elected representatives can speak for them. If only, they would understand that their country isn’t Switzerland and allow for compromise. The other day, I watched a music video aired in a local TV channel, an ode to Egypt sung by Kuwaiti singers. The anchor enthused “Look how Egypt is loved in the Gulf! What a shame Egyptians don’t love it as much.” Come on, Egyptians! Come to your senses and prove him wrong.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.