By Mohammed Nosseir
Nations do not only evolve through good governance, but also, and more importantly, by abiding with certain moral values advocated by their citizens. Moral values are the hidden qualities that influence the entire society. A lack of awareness of their significance does not undermine their importance, and it should not discourage people from advocating in favour of their moral convictions. Citizens whose individual moral values are in harmony with their government’s policies are the few lucky ones. The remaining majority suffers from the absence of moral values in their country’s government policies.
Citizens whose moral values are at odds with their country’s mission face a very real dilemma: should they stand up for their country, or for their convictions? In the old days, rulers could easily justify their policies and, due to their limited exposure, citizens had no option but to go along. Even when a ruler’s decision appeared to be irrational, it was difficult for citizens to formulate an alternative. Nowadays however, citizens are able to learn about an issue from hundreds of different sources and can thus make their own judgments, independently of a ruler’s false propaganda. Today, ignorance has become a personal choice.
People may argue the point of who determines and prioritises our moral convictions – do we share universal moral values or are our values, as most Arab rulers claim, culturally driven? Should we abide with Western moral values, such as fairness, freedom, and equality, or should we accept Arab rulers’ assertions that security and stability are the ultimate values? Which qualities should be accorded priority; security and stability, or moral values? Are security and stability moral values? Or is it part of a ruler’s duties to establish security and stability without violating moral values, ensuring that the two conditions coexist? Should we each live according to our personal understanding of moral values, or should we share some commonalities?
In autocratic countries (which include the vast majority of Arab nations), the rulers’ false propaganda undoubtedly conflicts with moral values. Autocratic Arab rulers often attempt to shape and influence their nations’ values to serve their personal interests, either by claiming that Arab culture applies a different set of moral values, or by calling for a freeze on the application of moral values until a country’s internal and external threats have been dealt with. Arab citizens who wish to stand up for their moral values end up being marginalised or criminalised (frustrated, marginalised citizens should always remind themselves that they are the lucky ones).
For decades, Arab governments have tried to instil in their citizens a belief that patriotism is the only tool for expressing love and attachment to their countries, sometimes claiming that patriotism is itself a moral value. Rulers do not need to learn about their people’s ideas and opinions. They work on strengthening and uniting their nations, using patriotism as the only practical tool that, without question, will enable them to mobilise their people; the issue is not one that is open to a citizen’s personal judgment. People who refuse to be driven by patriotism, preferring to stand by their individual moral convictions, run the risk of being harshly punished by their governments and being labelled as traitors –Mohammed El-Baradei is a factual example.
Over the past few decades, a number of wars have taken place in the Middle East, shuffling many deeply rooted fundamental principles. Obviously, anyone who believes in basic moral values will condemn Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and support the right of Kuwaiti citizens to retrieve their land. However, subjecting the entire Iraqi society to decades of punishment because of the ruthless aggression committed by their former president is certainly an immoral act.
While Saddam Hussein is the icon of Iraq’s collapse, he should not be made to bear the entire responsibility for violence. Many liberal democratic countries empowered him by selling him weapons and endorsing his motives. Unfortunately, these same countries are today using moral values as a tool to exert pressure on their enemies while turning a blind eye on the actions of their affiliates. The responsibility for universal crimes should not be borne by a single dictator. In one way or another, millions of civilians – and a number of admired global leaders – have contributed to their commitment.
Many Egyptians perceive democracy as the right to express their opinions on any given issue. While gathering the opinions of a few acquaintances (who were, coincidently, spending the Easter holiday at various fabulous Red Sea resorts) on whether or not they support Egypt’s involvement in the war on Yemen, I received mixed feedback. Some of my acquaintances endorse the Egyptian government’s unofficial and nonsensical line, which states that Egypt is entitled to protect its national interests, and should thus be engaged in this war.
Fair enough, if democracy allows every citizen to express his or her opinion! However, from a moral perspective, this opinion should be accompanied by a willingness on the part of its holders to send their children to war – and it is widely known that wealthy Egyptians do their utmost to exempt their sons from military service. People who are able to rationally justify a war should also physically engage in its foolishness.
Advocating for moral values in a nation where the diminishing middle class has almost disappeared may present a real challenge. Should we begin by persuading the president to apply moral values (when the absence of these values played a major role in bringing him to power)? Should we start by persuading the narrow-minded influencer elites that while the application of moral values might make them less privileged in the short term, it is bound to provide a much more secure environment for their children in the long term? Or should we visit the illiterate marginalised masses, who are used as a corrupt tool in this mechanism, and use our moral values narrative to advise them?
I do not believe in imposing moral values on people; that is a matter that matures as the entire society develops, and will be attained at a convenient point along the path of society’s development. However, if it is widely acceptable for countries to join forces and build coalitions to invade other countries (leading to the certain death of thousands of innocent civilians), then people who disagree with their rulers should also be given the right to condemn this act and to advocate for abiding with moral values. The application of moral values could, perhaps, bring back the peace and stability that we have been searching for.
The disregard of moral values does not leave us in a neutral sphere; it leaves us in an immoral environment constituted of hatred, injustice, human abuse and countless other negative qualities. People affiliated to the current Egyptian ruling regime are misguided in their belief that they are immune to the immorality that they do not hesitate to attribute to their opponents. The rule of law may be bent to serve a certain segment of society – but there can be no discrimination in moral values. Unless moral values are shared by the entire society, Egyptians will continue to live in the current immoral environment from which no person is exempt.
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, and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012