What's so Egyptian about being Egyptian anymore?

Daily News Egypt
10 Min Read

A forgotten sense of national pride and obligation to country

Ramadan’s come and gone. Not only is it the time of year characterized by the oxymoronic gluttonizing of food after a day of fasting, but it is also the season of an ever-so not entertaining clutter of cliché soap operas peppered with an ever-so-more unentertaining clutter of cliché advertising.

However, this Ramadan, one soap opera cut through the clutter and clichés, moving audiences to not only reminisce about Egypt’s past glory, but to question how that epoch’s fevered sense of national pride was lost and whether or not it could and would be restored in the generations to come.

As a very very very young thirty-something, who had constantly heard members of my family speak of the “Nasser years with a sparkle of aged idealism in their eyes, it wasn’t until I watched one of Ramadan’s feature soap operas, El-Andaleeb (The Songbird), that I began to not only understand their love affair with that era, but also realize just how detached my generation is from Egypt and from being Egyptians.

Back then, because it was the first time in thousands of years Egypt had won its political independence, and Egyptians felt a sense of ownership over their collective destinies, they developed a strong faith in their unity as the means to their success. The vernacular had a lot more of “we should rather than “I want. Even the metrics of success – one’s education, one’s culture in the arts and sciences and one’s contribution to society – encapsulated a peculiar breed of Egyptian zeitgeist that appears extinct today.

The metrics of success, first of all, have mutated – it’s all about money and power (and not necessarily the real power one wields, in as much as it is the perception of power society presumes one holds). Secondly, back then everyone’s role in society was defined, but not restricted. In other words, everyone assumed responsibility for realizing the Egyptian dream, but how one fulfilled that responsibility was limitless because new doors of opportunity opened as social classes were upwardly mobile and education was made public, and the standards made higher. Ironically enough, although 21st century Egyptians have access to more tools, such as information and technology, our roles lack any definition while being dangerously constricted – a constriction imposed by the new metrics of success to which every Egyptian has enslaved himself or herself.

With so much pressure to measure up to the metrics, the most expedient solution seems the fast track. Yes, we are the generation that wants to fast track it, and to do so effortlessly – myself included. We are grabbing at a pie that has few pieces left. Who has time to think of Egypt and the Egyptians when we are each too busy trying to claim a wedge of a life for ourselves?

The unrealistic expectations of today leave little room for thoughts of owning our country, let alone to owning up to who we are. The truth of the matter is we are too caught up in the quest to own whatever we can of our lives and subsequent individual futures. Consequently, we really haven’t cared or thought about an Egyptian legacy. To do so one has to aspire rather than desire. But like Gordon Gecko said, greed is good.

Then again, Gordon Gecko didn’t live in Nasser’s Egypt.

Discovering these and other innumerable disparities between then and now as I watched “El-Andaleeb unfold, as “Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw would write, ‘I couldn’t help but wonder’ . can we revive and resurrect that zealous passion for our people and our country? If it happened once, why can’t it happen again?

The world paradigm is shifting, giving us the chance to redefine how we see ourselves as a nation and how the world sees us as a country. New markets in the East are opening, enabling young Egyptians to exercise an emerging entrepreneurial spirit. Education is arming students with a quality of knowledge and capabilities never before seen, allowing them to compete in the international arena. From the American and German Universities to private institutions offering joint degrees with prestigious foreign universities, there is a plethora of niche studies that students can pursue. Vocational diplomas are being offered to less affluent Egyptians by multinational companies, such as Microsoft. Last, but definitely not least, we’ve become technologically savvy. Egyptians are online, connected and tuned in. And given the government’s information technology initiatives in homes and at schools, no one will be tuned out.

All this should be the beginning of a regaining of ownership for each Egyptian over his or her life, and should, as well, lend some sense of security regarding their individual futures. Once that happens, we can progress along Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and move from thinking about a “we rather than the “me. If each person is patient in reaping the fruits of his or her own progress, and puts some of the extra fruit reaped into a bigger community pie, more pieces will be available to all of society – more equitable pieces. At that point, it won’t be charity – it will be an investment with returns, both financially and socially.

Those returns eventually will be considered rewards – because everyone wins. It would be a profitable laissez-faire business model promoting positive social and moral values. The metrics of success would cease being money and power, because money would be invested in social betterment – which would result in enabling people to empower themselves.

At this point, at least someone reading this is thinking, ‘Yeah, it sounds nice, but get real – the government is corrupt and there’s a lack of democracy.’

But has anyone stopped to think that, in reality, it is the Egyptians that keep Egypt from evolving?

If one skims the history of the free world, nowhere did democracy and independence come from the governing powers that be – it was sought after by the people who collectively stood up for themselves.

Their unity is what changed repressive political systems into free democracies. We too were once unified. After the 1967 War that unity dissipated. Every Egyptian’s sense of success was tied to the state, and when the state was defeated, so were they. Resuscitating the pre ’67 spirit of unity was complicated by an open door policy that fostered mass consumption and the feeding of self-seeking appetites. Egyptians filled their patriotic void with material luxuries. It was an immediate gratification that became addictive and later on destructive. There was a price to pay, and it only became greater with time – until finally, my generation would have to pay what was due, plus interest.

But, my generation does have a choice – we can continue to spend our lives paying past dues, or consolidate our debt by collectively owning up to our people and our country. By collectively sharing the burden, over the long run it becomes less taxing on an individual basis. Only then will we begin to assume social roles that are defined, without being constricted. Fulfilling those roles will result in a sense of pride in oneself and in being an Egyptian. And that pride in being Egyptian will be mirrored in an Egyptian patriotism that is not romantic or idealistic, but rather realistic and tangible.

Naïve? Maybe. Oversimplified? Perhaps. Please, do disagree with me. Please, do offer a better solution. But, please – as an Egyptian, don’t just turn the page.

Jeneen Ezzat has a master’s degree in Middle Eastern comparative politics from the American University in Cairo.

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