Diverse, but not yet pluralistic
The question of pluralism in Egypt is becoming more relevant with every passing day, writes Ayman Abdel-Wahab
Egypt is not a pluralistic society -- not yet. But it is an open society, one in which cultural and social diversity have always been a source of vitality and societal prowess.
What we need to do is manage the diversity to make it an asset, not a liability. In the heat of political rivalry, the line may be blurred between diversity as a natural phenomenon and the political and social framework this diversity needs in order to survive.
To put it in a nutshell, diversity has to be institutionalised, ensconced into our legal system, defended and channelled into productive courses. Things like the status of women, social inequities, as well as urgent regional matters need to be addressed in a systematic manner. The demands of Upper Egypt for development cannot be ignored, nor can the rights of the Bedouins of Sinai and the inhabitants of Nubia be overlooked. Sectarian strife between the Muslims and Christians and discrimination against certain sections of society must also be confronted.
Our society may be diverse, but the diversity needs to be managed, or it will backfire. Egypt has always been a melting pot, and we need to work harder to keep it so.
Political groups are apt to exploit factional issues for their own benefit. This will happen, no doubt. But we need to keep an eye on what's going on. We need to work double time to make sure that diversity becomes a source of inspiration, not of frustration.
For one thing, we have to boost civil society so it may act as a magnet for the immense energy of our younger generations. The youth deserves to have its say in the future of its country. And it needs to learn how to appreciate civil rights and respect the special needs of certain parts of society. The key to diversity is civil society. If it is fully engaged in development and democratisation, Egypt will remain the melting pot it always was.
The writer is director of the Civil Society Unit at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.