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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Egyptians and Hakuna Matata

It’s very easy to escape, to put the past behind and live another’s life. In fact, it’s sometimes even a more successful choice, if you measure success by "accomplishments". Reality isn’t always the best case scenario and the natural instinctual human quest for happiness may sometimes push anyone to flee.

I’m a very optimistic person who usually manages to see the good-looking face of everything (to a point that might be annoying to some). But, we don’t even need to face it: The situation in Egypt is dreadful. Things are going from bad to worse and one doesn’t need statistics to see it.

I’m not talking about unemployment, prices, infrastructure, economy or growth rates… these are all the superficial symptoms of a heap of underlying problems that has never been addressed properly. Trying to fix each of them on its own is nothing but a stupid, unsustainable waste of time. It is done by equally stupid, shallow governments who are too busy with their ulterior motives (power, money, privileges…etc.) to think of EFFECTIVE ways to unroot the real causes. I don’t say they’re not trying to fix things, they are, and many of them are really working hard on that! But, they’re treating brain cancer with aspirin, with the hopes it might alleviate the headache. Those of them who really want to do things right are too distracted, lack motivation, ingenuity and focus to actually do something about it. They build shrines for their ever adored “experience”, not realizing that the more “experienced” they become, the older, rustier, lazier, and duller they get. 

This applies on all levels of governance, starting by the cleaning manual working who’s too distracted from actually cleaning by the quest for charity, passing by government employees, teachers, doctors, politicians, ministers, parties and of course, this ghost of a man they call “the president”.

Parents aren’t doing a great job either, and for exactly the same reasons: A culture that gives more value to age, sex, social status and religion over hard work, creativity, logic and society’s welfare.  

These wounds in the body of the Egyptian society were my every day worry and source of frustration since the day I saw the light of day. Just like every single person from my generations and range of 2-3 generations above and below. Every single step in life, every single dream, every single basic right, every single need constitute a fight against a provocative regime that has, almost intentionally, made it so. From finding shelter, nutrition, safety, to getting an education, healthcare, a job, to parking your car, finding a place in a bus, receiving your mail, walking in the street, getting entertained, getting spirituality, getting a calm night sleep or even escaping from all of that to a different spot on the earth. There is virtually nothing that works, nothing that doesn’t constitute a continuous struggle, nothing that the governance hasn’t employed all of its means to crush you with!

Many of Egyptian movies dating from about 10 to 15 years ago talk about this system, the corruption, the bureaucracy, the police state that’s sole concern is to make sure everybody is walking in the straight path. Concerned with his/her own problems without being concerned with the way he’s being governed, his future, any ambitions he might have, any idealistic belonging of any sort. The famous خليك جنب الحيطkeep on walking next to the wall” featured everywhere in Egypt, whether it’s on television screens or in real life, and boy have we abided by that!! 

And then, there was this point in history when we began saying and hearing these words of absolute wisdom that perfectly sums up books of writing about Egypt, the Egyptians and where they are headed: “We’ve been walking next to the wall, till we’ve crushed into itفضلنا ماشيين جنب الحيط لغاية لما لبسنا فالحيط .

 And that’s exactly what happened: The fear of making firm statements, standing for one’s believe, participating in politics, making a difference just to be “safe”. Renouncing our rights in freedom, privacy, political involvement and rightful pursuit of happiness for the sake of “safety”. To avoid “terrorism”, “a religious, oppressive governance”, “war”, “foreign interference” and all these carefully chosen words that we have been bombarded with for the past 30 years to keep us all in a state of continuous fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what “might” happen. Not fear of lack of safety, but simply fear of the POTENTIAL lack of safety that MIGHT take place!

And now, guess what? we don’t even have that. The thing that we have been fearing, the reason why we have been sacrificing our right of a honorable, basic life with our basic needs slightly met, this same thing that made us into overly peaceful, passive human beings that can only “wait” for something to happen. Safety. We even lost that. Terrorism: every week. Corruption: more abundant than air (not just a figure of speech, notice the lack of breathable air in every governmental office!). Crime: sky-rocketing. Education, health, science, art, international profile, transparency: Free-falling. So now, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to tell you that our own decisions have led us to this: We have nothing.. and I mean NOTHING. And we have only ourselves to blame for that!

Now, let’s take the childish interpretation that “the rich” have everything and that “the poor” have nothing. After all, our glorious humorous revolution 60 years ago was all about that. It was all about “redistribution of wealth”. 

First question: How did this work out at the end after all? The army lead and decided upon a-coup-d’état that is still being taught as the best thing that happened to the country, the glorious revolution that we still celebrate till today, the songs, the street names, the parades, the films and all this, pardon my French, crap; how did it work out after all?
Are we living in happiness, equality and fairness?
Are we living in prosperity and jumping from success to the other?
Are the people governing their own selves?
Are we swimming in wealth, earning all the Nobel prices and refusing people’s visa of entry to our country for fear of illegal immigration?

Guess what? things are even worse: We don’t have any of these things AND we are called “a democracy”. We don’t have a king to blame, a royal family to make fun of and a nobility that controls everything. We have a democratically elected president (for 30 years in a row, that’s how good he is!), a presidential family that is serving the country day-in and day-out without getting anything out of it, we have a democratically elected parliament (after all, if the people chose one or 2 persons out of almost 600 as opposition that’s the people’s choice after all). In short, we have everything that makes us “look” like a democracy while reality is MUCH worse than monarchies.

Did any of our kings consider another term after 30 years in power? Was any of our kings with the absolute privileges to overrule, decide, change constitutions, declare, appoint and suspend whoever pleases him, from government officials to faculty deans?

So, are we that stupid? To believe our situation right now is better than before? that wealth is equally distributed? that things are going better? If not, then WHY are we still celebrating the revolution? Why are we still allowing these same principles to govern us till now?

Second question: Is this really people’s choice?

In other words: Maybe it is that bad, but that’s what people want, that’s the way they like it. Egyptians are masochists who enjoy being tortured day in and day out.

 Of course there is corruption, of course elections are falsified, of course leaders are being lied to, the people are being lied to and those who lie are being lied to by other liars. But, let’s suppose that none of this happened. Let’s imagine that we have a 100% bullet-proof election that have won the Guinness record in transparency: Would results be any different? Would those people lose? Wouldn’t the president be elected every single time?
If we fight corruption, and won, would things really change?

Well, I believe not at all!

And THAT’S the key to the story: If people really had the choice, they would make the same choices at the end! Why? because this is the way they have been educated.

They’ve been educated about the wonders of the revolution the genius of the president, this Peter Pan of politics who never grows up (his hair is still jet black!!), who will stay on this land after all Egyptians are gone and say “where did everybody go”. 

Speaking of Peter Pan: I’m gonna give you some entertainment, just to rest your brain (and your blood pressure) for a while.

There’s  a song in Disney’s Peter Pan where the children are playing. What they’re doing is that they’re simply walking in a line and singing. I find it extremely impressive that the Egyptian people are behaving exactly like pre-teens in a sarcastic segment of a fictional Disney movie:
“We’re following the leader,
the leader,
                the leader.
We’re following the leader,
where ever he may go!

We’re out to fight the indians,
the indians, 
the indians.
We’re out to fight the indians,
because he told us so!”

So, back to education: How do you expect people that were never taught objectivity, that were told what to think, how to behave and who to support, how do you expect these people to decide on their governance?

If the government brings water to a village in the 21st century, just 2 weeks before the elections. Do you think people would say: “What kind of government is this? deny us our most basic living conditions and only give it to is right before the elections?” Of course not. They’ll say “thank god” and kiss the hands of the politicians who made this magical twist of their wands and brought them water. Did anybody ever tell them it is their right to have water? Did anybody ever tell them it’s their right to earn money? Did anybody ever tell them they’re not getting this as a “gift” from the government? Did anybody ever tell them that the government pays thousands of time the cost of bringing them this water in documented cars, escorts, presidential trips around the globe to pose for a picture while shaking hands, roads that will break in 3 years only to build new ones 3 times more expenses, 2 times less durable?

Which brings us to the third question: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING? And by ‘You’ I mean el sayed el ra2ees!

30 years is an AWFULLY long time. In fact, I only know what 27 years mean and it’s quite a lot. Half a dozen presidential rotations took place during this time in the US. Generations have been born, accessed ridiculous education, “graduated”, went to college, “graduated”, did their retarded obligatory military service, looked for a job, found jobs (this takes ages by itself), got married and go 1, 2 or even 3 children!

During these AGES, what have you been doing exactly? If you give me 30 years with an entire country responding to my every whim, I think something as basic as “fixing education” could have been AT LEAST initiated! 

Have you been procrastinating? have you been waking up at 12 pm, watching TV, eating “brunch”, walking around in your room in your pyjamas and watching the ceiling? No? Then what? What is wrong with you man? We’ve been paying you and your mignons with our money, our freedom, our time and our support for 30 years. What are you giving us back? What did we get in return? You thief, I want my money back. I want my time away from home, stuck in a car waiting for your fanciness to pass. I want the possibility of holding a camera and taping the used-to-be beautiful buildings of downtown without being pushed away by a policeman. You know what? I want to watch those silly television programs that were cancelled because you were giving one of your nauseating speeches that lack everything but arrogance.

Dear reader, if, like me, you’re very angry right now. Feel free to take a short break: Go jump on your bed, kiss your wife or husband, watch your children in awe when you tell them it’s time you revealed to them your secret identity as Superman, or just light some candles and listen to “What a wonderful world”. I just have ONE request: Remember that these people aren’t even worth your anger!

Back to the “rich” and the “poor”. Didn’t you notice something very peculiar about the Egyptian society: Everybody wants to leave. Everybody is suffering. Rich people sometimes even more than the poor ones!

How is this possible? I mean, if the very wealthy people have everything, why do they want to escape? why do they tend to run away? why aren’t they the happiest people alive?

It’s quite simple, because it’s never and was never a question of wealth. It’s a question of security. Even the rich want security. Money buys “some” security. And when rich people have that, they want more.

In Egypt, if you’re sick and don’t have the money for it: You Die!
If you can’t afford proper education, your children will get a mediocre devastating thing that can’t even be called “education”.
If you don’t have a job, you won’t get married or start a family.
If your job doesn’t pay much (almost always) you won’t be able to spend time with your family.
If you lose a job, your children won’t eat.
If you don’t bribe the policeman you won’t park your car, sell your goods or spend the night in your bed.
If a bus bumps into your car, all you can do is weep, thank god you’re alive, and think of ways to pay for these huge sums of money you didn’t anticipate.
If a fire starts in your home, you’re on your own.
If you have an accident, you’re on your own.
If you want to do anything that is remotely creative or entrepreneurial, you’re absolutely on your own.

This gives people, of all socio-economic classes a continuous sense of lack of security. They feel and know that if ANYTHING unexpected happened to them or any of their loved ones, it’s going to directly affect their lifestyle. So, people become greedy, when they earn money they want to earn more, if it wasn’t for their own security, it’s for the security of their parents, sons, grandsons… for as many generations as possible. This sense of lack of security is everywhere and is translated into behaviors that have become norms.

Watch how Egyptians behave in Open-Buffets. How they always fear there won’t be any food left. How they buy huge amounts of goods from the supermarkets, as if there won’t be any rice or sugar in the market after a week. How they would bargain on every single product, every single service they are presented with. How they would make sure any position they take becomes as profitable as it can be. These are all manifestations of a culture of insecurity, lack of stability and an “every man on his own” state-of-mind that has become the norms. It is the very basic, very primeval animal behavior that has surfaced as a result of a “laws-of-the-jungle”-abiding community. The Egyptian people are going backwards in terms of evolution!

Pretty depressing, huh? Indeed, a vicious circle that can only be broken by the people themselves, who actually are not that keen on breaking it. They never were.

For the past 3 months, I have been studying in Europe. I’ve been studying healthcare governance, with the hopes that I might be able to make a difference in my country’s healthcare system one of these days.

I wake up every morning with resurrecting air in my lungs. Didn’t see one single mosquito or fly till now. Open the window and watch the spectacular mountains, covered with sparkling snow, rustic cobble-stoned streets, couples walking their babies in twins’ baby-strollers, music being played in the streets, succulent food, absolute freedom of behavior and mobility, continuous entertainment every way I go, unprecedented quality of education at prices that are only minuscule compared to the best education you can get in Egypt (which isn’t even remotely as good)… I’m also not alone either. In brief, I’m living the perfect life!

But, I can’t help but following-up what’s happening in my country, the country that drove me insane in every instance of my life without any reason. The country that prevented me on numerous occasions (and is still doing that) from actually helping people through my work! I always know I’m going to get painful news. I always know It’s gonna frustrate me like crazy. It always does. But, I can’t help it, it’s more powerful than me.

At the verge of the last Tunisian uprising, my heart was filled with joy and hope, for now it can happen in Egypt, there is no reason why it wouldn’t. It all depends on the people after all.
Many were skeptical about that and saw that the Egyptian people are too lazy and passive to do anything. I refused to think this way.

I check the news and, apparently, the government employees at the ministry of education are protesting since the morning, rioting till 11 pm in the ministry building and calling for the suspension of the minister!

What a great feeling this was! I was right, people are indeed taking things into their own hands, taking active steps to do something about it.

I follow this issue till I read that, as a response to the riots, the minister went in heavy security and met with the protestors to hear their demands.

Remember, we’re talking about the ministry of “education”: The most failing governmental aspect of all. The one responsible for everything we’re in right now!

After extensive research, I finally land on these “demands” that have incited them to move forward: To my greatest shock and utmost frustration, I realize they have been requesting that things return the way they were before, namely the return of “badal el wagabat” (monetary compensation for meals) and that they all be given their “monthly incentives”. Needless to say these incentives have been made to reward those excelling in work, and, of course, it is needless to say that, specially these people hardly work in the first place!

So, basically, they were doing this for things such as “meals” and “undue compensation of a lousy job, lousily done”.

At this point, my fury was indescribable. I’ve been spending all my life thinkings of how could things be done differently and effectively. Have been discussing this with people till they want to push me outside the closest window. I have put myself in continuous worry and care about those people, but now I realize they are not worthy of any of this!

So, I decide that I won’t care anymore… I will just live my life, in Europe, Egypt or elsewhere; enjoy it and whether they want to do something about their country or not is none of my concern. Men el akher, Toz feehom kollohom.

So, I’m just gonna put my past behind me and think about my future. Not the future of my people. Only my own. That’s the right thing to do now.

I was perfectly happy at this stage… But, it didn’t last.
I wake up in the morning, take the train, admire the beautiful scenery that is unsurpassed in its grandeur and, after a while, decide to watch a movie on my laptop.

Now comes the relevance of this long articles’s title.
I look around and realize I have “The Lion King” on my computer and I didn’t watch this movie for quite a while now. Of course, very emotional movie, very spectacular but that’s not all.
As if sent to me by the skies this movie’s lesson is that your past, your home may hurt sometimes, but it’s your home, you can’t just leave it and enjoy your life somewhere else. This somewhere else, no matter how beautiful it is will never feel like home. At the end, your country and your family are waiting for you. One day you’ll return as a proud king reclaiming his throne. And if this land has been completely destroyed by its previous rulers, if the fragile circle of life has been interrupted, you’ll need to fight for your right to correct things, persevere while maintaining your values and determination, win your fight and make this land a better place for all.

That’s the way it should be, and that’s the way it’s gonna be… By knowledge, hard work, motivation and did I mention hard work, this place is going to be fought for, captured from its besiegers and turned to what it is destined to be, and I’m gonna play my role in that!

Where do YOU stand in this? are you gonna fight the fight, walk the walk and make the difference, or are you going to live a Hakuna Matata life in the comfort of your computer desk? 

The choice is yours. I made mine!

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