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Decoding Egypt: Shadows of a State

Realist scholars of international relations argue that “anarchy is the defining characteristic of the international system in which states interact. According to these scholars, anarchy simply means the absence of any overriding authority above states. That is the case because states are sovereign and the system lacks any “hierarchy of authority. Unlike domestic societies, there …


Realist scholars of international relations argue that “anarchy is the defining characteristic of the international system in which states interact. According to these scholars, anarchy simply means the absence of any overriding authority above states. That is the case because states are sovereign and the system lacks any “hierarchy of authority. Unlike domestic societies, there is no “world government to enforce rules and sustain order on the international level. In fact, interactions among states are governed by norms, not rules.

Interestingly, a replica of this peculiar setting could be clearly seen on the streets of Cairo; anarchy prevails and, in the practical absence of an overriding authority, norms (and not traffic regulations) more often than not govern the attitude of Egyptian drivers and pedestrians. The irony is that this chaotic scene takes place right under the nose of Egyptian authorities, which remain aloof and disinterested.

Sadly, the disastrous status of traffic is a microcosm of life in Egypt today.

This wretched failure has commonly been attributed to sheer incompetence.

In addition, the Egyptian regime has arguably been too much preoccupied with preserving its own security to provide for the wellbeing of its people, and to oversee the efficient administration of their affairs.

In Strong Regime, Weak State, Samer Soliman, Assistant Professor of political economy at the American University in Cairo, scrutinizes the patterns of public expenditure in Egypt, revealing some interesting findings about resource distribution among different sectors and ministries.

Evidently, the 1990s witnessed a stark increase in the budget allocated to the Ministries of Interior, Religious Endowments, Information and Culture. According to Soliman, these sectors were favored because they contribute – directly or indirectly – to the survival of the regime. On the other hand, public education (believed to be the engine of economic growth, as the case of the Asian tigers has clearly demonstrated) was left in shambles; education s fatal sin is that it does not augment the security of the regime. One eternal law of nature is that vacuums are filled as soon as they are created. The degeneration of public services led to the emergence of multiple private networks that have atoned for the withdrawal of the state.

For example, it was reported that Egyptians spend approximately LE 30 billion every year on private lessons; that amount is, ironically, more than what the central government spends annually on education. The same is true of public health services, whose deterioration led to the mushrooming of private health services.

In the same vein, the appalling incompetence and rampant corruption of law enforcement departments produced a deep-seated, popular belief that the sole function of laws and court decrees in Egypt is to decorate the shelves of government departments; in reality, other approaches are used to serve justice. The baltaga (thuggery) phenomenon – where Baltagia (Ruffians) impose extra-legal order in streets – thrived, often in collusion with the police. In the absence of binding legal authority, the society has turned into a semi-jungle; survival is for the fittest, the same norm states had learnt from the game of international politics.

Undoubtedly, the lax attitude toward law created a fertile breeding ground for corruption. Moving in all directions at full speed, corruption turned into a gigantic octopus-like creature, while the feeble state watches passively, and perhaps amusingly.

Since states are supposed to treat their citizens equally, another indicator of the absence of the state is the skewed application of the law. In the 1960s, an Egyptian governor had the courage to say that “the law in Egypt is on vacation, but that statement represents merely half of the truth; not all laws are always on vacation, and not all citizens are subject to those that are still in effect. Access to the powerful -and not justice or merit – is the fastest ticket to both privileges and immunity. “You will not be beaten on your stomach if you have a back, goes the famous Egyptian proverb – in translation, the powerful are exempt from punishment.

No wonder then that Egypt was ranked 36th among 177 nations in the “failed states index produced by the Fund for Peace organization. The indicators used to develop the index included “criminalization and delegitimization of the state, “deterioration of public services and “arbitrary application of the rule of law.

Last year, Noam Chomsky made the shocking argument that the United States has turned into a “failed state. Following his rationale, what kind of term could one possibly use to depict Egypt s status?

Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo.

Topics: Wael Ghonim

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https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2008/07/16/decoding-egypt-shadows-of-a-state/
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