By Mohammed Aly Ibrahim
President Mohamed Morsy has officially launched his “clean country” campaign, a cornerstone of his 100-day plan to make a positive impact on some of Egypt’s chronic problems.
State media claims that there has been a wide response to the president’s call to remove piles of waste in the streets in Cairo and in other governorates.
By invoking greater civic participation, the campaign seeks to change public perception that it is acceptable to dump rubbish in the street in the expectation that will be removed by the government. Gone are the days that the administration should shoulder every responsibility.
Unfortunately, many are yet to get the memo. On the first day of the campaign, local councils and government bodies distributed 10,000 rubbish bags, but the response has not been encouraging.
Some people argue that they are already in effect being charged twice for rubbish collection; once through their monthly municipal bills and again to the informal rubbish collectors who remove refuse at the door.
In classier districts like Zamalek or Heliopolis collection charges can be 10 pounds a month and yet these districts often have the worst rubbish collection problems. No wonder their residents then ask why the government is now asking them to remove rubbish themselves.
After Friday prayer in the upscale district of Nasr City last week, worshipers rushed from the mosque to the comfort of their air-conditioned cars.
I was surprised then to see young men out in the heat sweeping the streets and collecting litter in bags. At first I assumed that some enthusiastic Egyptians had responded to the president’s call to clean up their neighbourhood.
I stopped alongside one of them to salute his dedication and quick response to Morsy’s call. His Asian features further increased my surprise.
It turns out he was part of a group of Malaysian students studying Shari’a at Al-Azhar university. They had heard about the president’s initiative on television and promptly volunteered to do the job which many Egyptians had declined.
I asked Tenkko Abdulla to interview some of them to establish their motives. They surprised me and made me feel ashamed of myself when they proudly answered that they had bought the brooms and dustpans needed for the job with the small amount of money they receive from their Al-Azhar scholarships.
They also said they consider the street cleaning a religious duty which they owe to Egypt in return for the free religious education they receive from the “The Great Azhar,” as they described it.
I was again embarrassed to compare their attitude with that of my fellow citizens who pilloried their work, saying that the government had imported “Chinese scavengers” (on account of their Asian features) to clean Cairo.
The example set by the Malaysian students sheds light on the reasons for their country’s advancement and the lagging behind of our own.
Their spirit of dedication, self-discipline and willingness to pitch in to solve problems are what we lack and need if we are to follow in their footsteps. Even something as trivial as refuse can make a difference between two countries.
Mohamed Aly Ibrahim is the former editor in chief of both the Egyptian Gazette and Algoumhoria newspaper Email:firstname.lastname@example.org