By Mohammed Nosseir
In principle, every citizen deserves a better life; why should people suffer if their lives can be improved? However, a better life won’t be dished out and served up on a golden plate. To lead better lives, citizens should not only work hard, they must abide by a number of values that are critical to the enhancement of their standard of living. Although Egyptian society is known for its cheerfulness, Egyptians have lately become significantly more unhappy, stressed, depressed and angry. To regain their joyful life, they simply need to deserve it.
Certainly, millions of Egyptians work hard to improve their standard of living; yet they are still suffering in one way or another. Hard work often results in higher earnings and, perhaps, a recognised social position, but it does not necessarily lead to better living conditions that entail being happy, healthy, secure, prosperous, etc. These rewards cannot be won through individual efforts. They cannot be achieved by each citizen on his or her own, but only through efforts exerted by the community as a whole. Egyptians are not doing this, and they are not even aware of the need for it.
By doing your utmost as an individual or a family, you won’t necessarily be rewarded with a better life. Egyptians have been educated, raised and handled by their rulers as very individualistic human beings; each citizen is concerned about himself and his family, period. In their efforts to climb their ambitious ladder, Egyptians look at improving their lives from a very narrow perspective. They work hard to acquire the things that they miss or lack in order to better their lives, while not bothering at all with the needs of society of which they are a part. Many Egyptians make very generous charity donations, but this is still a distinctive approach that is totally different from community development work.
Egyptians tend to view success from the angle of personal achievement; not in the form of community progress. Individual triumphs and successes make Egyptians happy, but nobody, obviously, can succeed in all spheres at all times. While a few lucky citizens may achieve successes in more than one field, everyone must enjoy the affluence and prosperity (resulting from efforts expended by other citizens) of all the remaining fields. However, because each citizen is focused exclusively on his/her individual needs and wants to realise it alone, Egypt is not progressing as a society.
A better life is not simply the result of cumulative hard work; it is equally important to abide by a number of good values – which is certainly not the case in Egypt. Under the impression that more money will bring them the better life they desire, Egyptians are trading off their values against their eagerness to increase their earnings. The result is a substantial deterioration in each aspect of Egyptian life.
In their efforts to satisfy their individualistic desires, Egyptians are happy to achieve the tiniest self-realisation at the cost of the country’s welfare. Egyptian rulers manage to capitalise on this fact by placing the community on a Ferris-wheel ride wherein each citizen propels the wheel with an eye to gaining a top seat at the expense of the majority (who will obviously be seated in various lower positions). In order to prolong his/her enjoyment of the top position, once an individual gets to the top of the wheel, he/she immediately does his/her utmost to switch it off, or at least slow it down. Meanwhile of course, the remaining citizens, each hoping for a chance to occupy the top seat, do their utmost to move the wheel.
The Ferris-wheel keeps turning, making a few individuals happy every now and then, and placing the country in a dizzy spin rather than on a path of progress. Consecutive Egyptian rulers have managed to benefit from this phenomenon by placing citizens on this wheel; when things get tough the ruler increases the wheel’s speed, allowing each citizen to get a glimpse of the top seat, thus keeping making him / her happy for a short while.
There is no doubt that every Egyptian family, whether rich or poor, well connected or marginalised, has, at a given moment in its lifetime, suffered significantly from the poor and corrupt structure of the Egyptian state. This suffering could be in the form of unjust punishment meted out to persons who are one hundred percent innocent, being left with permanent damage as a result of inappropriate medical treatment, or being forced to pay large bribes for services to which they are legally entitled, and hundreds of other examples.
Those types of tragedies often have a permanent negative impact on citizens. Unfortunately, after experiencing such dramatic events, rather than thinking of ways to mend the structural deficiencies behind the harm, Egyptians focus on how to personally avoid falling prey to similar incidents in future.
Furthermore, Egypt is not an impoverished or underprivileged country; on the contrary, it is very rich in many resources. Of course it has less oil than its Arab Gulf neighbours, but it has plenty of natural resources that, if well-managed, will bring prosperity to many citizens. Blame for the poor performances of the country can definitely be attributed to various Egyptian leaders and governments. Nevertheless, citizens too must accept a large portion of the liability; either for their role in accepting the government’s poor performance, or because they were themselves part of the corrupt system.
Mubarak used to justify the above by claiming that such incidents could happen in any nation, even an advanced one, which is true. The difference is that other governments work sincerely to minimise the occurrence of these events, or they try to overcome them completely, thus their citizens are living better lives. In Egypt, however, such events are increasing, and no efforts are made to reduce them. Eventually, after being toppled from power, Mubarak personally experienced some of these negative behaviours.
Furthermore, the majority of Egyptians tend to believe that focusing on their work and disengaging from the country’s political challenges will enable them to earn more money, and thus have better lives. In fact, the opposite is true. Maintaining a blind eye concerning a number of missing values that affect the lives of others but that have not yet affected them personally won’t keep Egyptians in a safe haven. Sooner rather than later, the deterioration of social values will affect everyone. The disregard of the abuse of human rights or of limitations imposed on citizens’ freedom of expression, while not even sympathising with citizens who advocate for these values demonstrates the low morals of society.
One illustration of the above is the behaviour of people who get rid of their rubbish by disposing of it in nearby streets to keep their own neighbourhoods neat and clean. Ironically, these people are not aware that other citizens are adopting the same behaviour. This selfish approach results in a city that is completely dirty – everywhere.
On 25 January and on the few days following it, Egyptians were willing to sacrifice their lives for good values such as freedom, dignity, justice, along with the basic need for bread. Unfortunately, this spirit did not last long. Egyptians now want to get more bread, trading it off against other desired values, under the false assumption that they do not currently need these values.
To have a better life, Egyptians need to refuse to ride on the ruler’s Ferris-wheel, which discriminates among them, making a few people happy occasionally. Abiding by positive values is more important than working harder while disregarding good manners. Egypt won’t progress until we prioritise our needs.
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.