How Sensible is Egypt’s Political Insensibility?

“We were very close to inventing a Covid-19 vaccine, but the pandemic impeded our efforts,” stated the Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament in an attempt to exalt Egypt’s scientific standing, which was slowed down by the pandemic itself! This declaration summarizes how Egypt is being ruled insensibly; the State is continually using illusory rhetoric directed to the poor and ignorant citizens in the hope of boosting their self-esteem to compensate for their miserable reality. 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi who believes that he is an exceptional human being tends to be offended when international journalists label him as an autocratic ruler. Our President believes that as long as he runs regular presidential and parliamentary elections, Egypt is, in fact, a democratic nation – conveniently disregarding the facts that he nominates his running mate, that almost all members of Parliament are allied with him and that the Egyptian media is entirely managed by his entourage. In the president’s view, these are all minor details that shouldn’t discredit Egypt’s democratic status. 

What is worse than the absence of democratic mechanisms is being completely driven by the desires and preferences of a single person: the President! Meanwhile,  the men surrounding the President are obliged to boost his ego, implementing his project ideas regardless of their feasibility and without considering the true needs of citizens or the economic impact of the President’s pet projects. Ironically, our President is also often admired by western democratic leaders; during a recent official state visit to Paris,French President Emmanuel Macron presented Al Sisi with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award.

President Al Sisi believes that modernization revolves around building flyovers to reduce traffic congestion and developing new cities to accommodate our growing population, period. Thus, he builds bridges and constructs a new administrative capital, although there are 12.5 million vacant flats in Egypt. Moreover, the World Bank and the IMF praise Egypt for its economic reform, dismissing the fact that our external debt has more than tripled during Al Sisi’s tenure and is expected to reach USD 139 billion in FY2020-21.

The Egyptian State is aware that our true political challenge is to create new jobs for the one million Egyptian youth who enter the job market annually, in addition to presently unemployed citizens. Nevertheless, the State deliberately discourages Foreign Direct Investment expansion in Egypt by enlarging the role of state-owned enterprises in our economy. State enterprises have penetrated literally every business sector in Egypt, and the private sector is facing seriously uneven competition.

Although the government is aware that the vast majority of the seven million State employees are redundant and unneeded, it is not able either to lay them off or to advance their productivity for fear of triggering any kind of disobedience at their end. Furthermore, while we are aware that youth naturally seek freedom and that the nation is in desperate need of their ideas and energy, the State applies a harsh, repressive policy that prevents young people from engaging in a practical political structure, making them a prey to terrorist recruitment.

Ironically, the application of sensible economic or political policies is not needed to rule an authoritarian country. All kinds of narratives or notions can easily be claimed to be successful with the aim of brainwashing our ignorant population, especially in a nation where only the State’s viewpoint is voiced, unchallenged by its critics. While international economic institutions may privately draw the State’s attention to its policy failures, they never condemn these failures publicly.

The more ignorant society is, the easier it is for the State to tighten its grip on its citizens. This is successfully happening even among educated Egyptians; the State offers illusory ideas and projects that make citizens happy and proud of their nation. When these projects become antiquated, the State switches people’s devotion – and its propaganda – to new projects, and so on. The Egyptian government recently offered its citizens the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine, which has not been approved by international regulators, with the aim of advancing our relationship with the Chinese Government.

The “Garbage In” that the State is feeding to our society is struggling with our citizens’ exposure to and admiration of freedom of expression in democratic nations. The “Garbage Out” that we eventually produce is often an extremely frustrated citizen whose gloomy future prospects may encourage him to engage in violence. Meanwhile, many Egyptians have managed to complement their miserable lives with a number of fanciful beliefs that provide them with an illusory happiness, oblivious to the fact that we are simply objects that the State mobilizes in the service of its autocratic mission.

Mohammed Nosseir
Mohammed Nosseir
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician, living in Cairo and advocating for political participation, liberal values and economic freedom. He tweets @MohammedNosseir