By Mohammed Nosseir
“I accuse you of high treason!” is a phrase frequently used by Egyptians in the course of political discourse. Most of the people who use the phrase don’t really think of its actual meaning, but it is a good tool for polarisation and expressing prejudice. Apparently, Egyptian society prefers accusations and criticism to discussions and debates. Soft phrases such as, “you don’t understand me” or, “I am not able to convey my opinion” are no longer part of Egyptian vocabulary; instead, people start with a strong conclusion condemning their opponent(s), then search for validation.
Almost three years after the Egyptian revolution, this state of affairs is one of its biggest consequences. Politics is polarising Egyptians into two groups exchanging vehement and ruthless accusations; a group accused of being non-Egyptian and an opposing group charged with being non-believers. Life in general and politics in particular, are meant to be dynamic, offering tens of solutions to any single issue. The forced classification of society into a couple of categories (for or against the Muslim Brotherhood or the military) is certainly not a good path for Egypt, and it shows how narrow-minded society has become.
Egyptians have over-exerted their mental capacity with arguments and justifications favoring their perspectives, thus creating an illusionary life based on conversing peers who obviously endorse their arguments. They leave no room, however tiny, open to the possibility of their being mistaken – let alone to being persuaded by their opponents’ arguments. This phenomenon is further widening the gap in society where each group is enjoying its own sphere, completely removed from reality. Meanwhile, the few people who realize the danger of this phenomenon and who are trying to narrow the gap find themselves accused of conspiracy or espionage.
Polarisation requires adopting a hardline perspective in order to be successful in your task. Thus, each group is building cumulative radical positions that are converting Egypt into two separate extreme societies. Those who are currently in power are working on legitimising their ideas into firm laws that they harshly enforce, under the impression that they will eventually control the society. Repeating the mantra of “nothing to lose” opposition groups are resorting to violent resistance. Nevertheless, each group is apparently proud of its behavior, believing that it can achieve its goal through intolerance and prejudice. This kind of behavior eventually becomes habitual, spreading even to non-political activities.
The media that is supposed to increase citizens’ awareness on various political topics is mainly pitting Egyptians against one another. Since the Muslim Brotherhoods’ media has been banned, the media’s incitement of the public is in one direction only – as if the Brotherhood’s supporters would ever buy the other side’s arguments. Egyptian media today is working on developing a number of unfounded narratives supported by untrue arguments that, while they might have limited impact on some citizens, are definitely forming a senseless society.
In return, the Muslim Brotherhood, unable to publicly present counter-arguments, have decided to play the role of the victim, concentrating on dragging the government into numerous violent events that eventually conclude with causalities. Being victimised has not only enabled the Brotherhood to present Egypt to the world as a country that lacks justice; it has also helped to sustain unity within the group.
To successfully lead and manage a polarised group, you need to apply a number of tactics and tools. These include; establishing a very narrow political framework; requesting supporters to blindly follow their leaders, allowing for no room to doubt or question policies; applying a double standard of values and abandoning democratic principles, such as equality, human rights, and tolerance, which, if applied, would definitely weaken the group.
Egyptian rulers and the respective governments in power must understand that their supporters represent a maximum of between one-quarter to one-third of society. However, to legitimise their position, democratic mechanisms created the run-off system wherein the elected ruler must obtain fifty percent plus one of the votes and citizens are obliged to vote again, choosing between the second-best options (in other words, the best of the worst.) Obviously, this does not reflect an actual increase in the number of an elected ruler’s supporters; it is simply a means of legitimising the ruler’s position.
Therefore, in most well-established democratic countries, elected politicians work on accommodating some of their opponents to form a strong and popular government that will also help them to unite society. Conversely, in Egypt the ruler and his minority supporters focus on manipulating the political scene, working on marginalising opponents, and thus further dividing the State. This was Morsi’s fundamental mistake, and the current interim government is emulating this error.
From a cultural perspective, Egyptians have always been proud of themselves and of their country’s history. The poor flip side of this is that their tendency to believe that they know it all, that they are always right. Eventually, this attitude leads to the formation of rigid opinions justified by invalid arguments. Another negative cultural consequence is that large portions of Egyptian society tend to lean towards the current ruler, regardless of the ideology he espouses. They simply want to be affiliated with power. The support of this self-serving group is certainly misleading, since they are sure to abandon the ruler if they don’t receive the desired benefits.
Regrettably, Islam has somehow been wedged into this polarisation. Each group believes strongly that God supports and endorses its position and that its casualties are martyrs. Islam condemns prejudice, yet Egyptians use their love of religion to justify it.
The mistake committed by all Egyptian governments is the adoption of a “winner-takes-all” philosophy. Backed by election results or by citizens expressing their support in demonstrations, these governments are convinced that they own Egypt. Any group that has obtained the privilege of leading and which is in power must work on containing opponents, not sidelining them. Egyptians have always been proud of their soft power. In this fragile transitional period, Egypt is strongly in need of applying the forces of sympathy, consensus, persuasion and less authoritative enforcement.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee, Headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.