The awareness factor
The non-materialisation of billions of dollars of investment promised by the Muslim Brotherhood is being blamed on a lack of awareness of the Egyptian people. Is it fair, asks Emad Gad
When the parliamentary election results came in last autumn and winter, guests on various Egyptian and Arab satellite TV talk shows strummed a single tune. They lauded the Egyptian people for their "instinctive intelligence" that led them to give Islamists comfortable majorities in the People's Assembly and Shura Council, and they praised the people's vigilance against the tricks and ruses of non-Islamist parties. In the flush of victory, the Islamists explained that their success was only natural, because they had a presence in the street and, therefore, had a first-hand understanding of the people's day-to-day concerns and problems. The implication was that the liberals and secularists did not share this feeling for people's needs because their public presence was limited to the media and they remained aloof from the street.
If the pro-Islamists' claim that they live among the people contains an element of truth, their contention that the secularists live only in the media is a flagrant exaggeration. The fact is that many secularists are very closely involved with the people and their concerns, perhaps more so than the Islamists. It is the core of the Egyptian left that established hundreds of NGOs that seek to address very crucial and practical needs of the poor and underprivileged, as well as ordinary working class Egyptians. Nor would it come as news, to the Islamists in particular, that the human rights organisations founded by Egyptian leftists were the chief defenders of the political and human rights of Islamists themselves in the face of the brutality and injustices of the former regime.
Shortly after the two houses of parliament were seated, the presidential campaigns began. As the race intensified, the first Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Khairat Al-Shater unveiled the Freedom and Justice Party's (FJP) "Nahda Project". He stated that this project, which would be put into effect once he won the presidency, would bring $200 billion dollars worth of direct foreign investment into the country. After Al-Shater was disqualified, the FJP's reserve candidate, Mohamed Mursi, inherited the Nahda Project and its team of architects. Following Mursi's victory, people soon began to wonder about the billions of dollars that were supposed to begin pouring in once the Muslim Brothers assumed power. They were in for a shock when erstwhile FJP candidate Al-Shater volunteered the answer that, actually, the Nahda Project was only a set of ideas that he had put to the Egyptian electorate and that inspired Egyptians to vote for Mursi. Otherwise put, the Egyptian people voted for Nahda, only to discover that the billions of dollars the Nahda Project was supposed to bring in would not materialise.
Still, talk of billions continued. President Mursi visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar and raised a couple of billion of dollars from each. Then he called on China and fetched a whopping $10 billion, which was followed by another couple of billion from a presidential visit to Italy. More recently, the president's advisors announced that several billions would be arriving as the result of their negotiations with foreign governments and funding agencies and, just this week, the president's foreign relations and international cooperation advisor Essam Al-Haddad announced that Ankara had pledged $2 billion of aid to Egypt.
As these impressive numbers keep pouring in, trumpeted by Muslim Brotherhood officials and spokesmen, the people are watching and waiting to see their lives improve. Admittedly, President Mursi has only been in power for a short time, far too short for any plan or projects to bear tangible fruit, especially in view of the country's circumstances. But it is equally true that the economic situation in general is dire and that people from a broad array of occupational and social brackets have very pressing demands. When they hear those astronomical figures day and night, it is only natural for their expectations to increase, and the higher their expectations the more bitter their potential disappointment.
Try as they might, the Muslim Brothers have been unable to calm sectorial demands or to stem the stream of questions about the Nahda Project and the hundreds of billions of dollars it was supposed to generate. In an attempt to deflect the heat, Al-Shater declared that the Nahda Project requires an "aware people". This raised eyebrows among the Egyptian public for several reasons. First, it ran counter the Muslim Brothers' habit, following every electoral victory, of praising the great Egyptian people for the wisdom of their choice, the acute political awareness that they have acquired since the 25 January Revolution and their determination never to be duped again. Second, it is not all that long ago that the Muslim Brothers, along with other opposition forces, lashed out against former prime minister Ahmed Nazif and former vice president Omar Suleiman for statements declaring the Egyptian people not fit for or ready for democracy.
So, why all of a sudden has the Muslim Brotherhood's strongman, the second-in-command to the supreme guide and the organisation's first candidate for the presidency, turned around and said that the Egyptian people lack the necessary awareness to understand the Nahda Project? Are we to understand that the Egyptian people's post-25 January consciousness has suddenly vanished or shrivelled? Or does it mean that our level of consciousness has not risen because for the past five decades our regimes did all in their power to keep it from growing? If, indeed, the level of awareness of the Egyptian people is as low as the Muslim Brothers say, would it not have been better to tailor the Nahda Project accordingly? As a general rule, development plans are designed in light of particular economic, social and cultural realities in a society. One of the aims of development projects -- not just renaissance projects -- is to raise levels of awareness by raising the educational rates and the quality of education. If policy architects come up with a project for a national renaissance, or even just social development, that is too advanced and sophisticated for the Egyptian people, then surely the architects should be faulted for its non-implementation. They should have paid closer attention to realities in society. Instead of producing a programme that requires a level of consciousness that is too sophisticated for the Egyptians, and then blaming them when it goes wrong, the Muslim Brothers should have designed a programme aimed at that people they once described as great but whose level of consciousness is now apparently not up to par.
The writer is an analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. He is also head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a former MP.