Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Ten conflicts in Egyptian society

Moataz Abdel-Fattah outlines 10 core conflicts at the heart of Egypt’s social and political reality that remain unresolved and that beg for national action

Al-Ahram Weekly

As we take a closer look at the root causes of our problems, rather than their outward manifestations, we find that our society is contending with 10 conflicts that have so far evaded satisfactory solutions. These conflicts caused the 25 January Revolution and continue to feed intermittent crises. They are:

- The secularist-Islamist conflict over Egypt’s identity. Some maintain that it is a fabricated conflict because Egypt is Egypt and will therefore defy significant change in one direction or another. Others counter that our society is so culturally weak and intellectually fragile that whoever controls the keys to power controls the keys to society. It is essential that we work together to defend Egypt’s all embracing identity, which will not allow anyone to hijack or dogmatise it.

- The conflict between rich and poor that was encapsulated in the revolutionary slogan “Bread, freedom and social justice”. The poverty rate in Egypt is high. Some people imagine that the poverty of the poor is linked exclusively to the wealth of the wealthy and that by means of a redistribution of income the poor will no longer be poor. Actually, this is wrong.

There are a variety of causes for the high and increasing poverty rate, such as the misguided policies long pursued by the government, the interweaving between power and capitalism, and soaring population growth among the poorest and least educated segments of the population.

Anyone who has studied the phenomenon of poverty in Egypt academically realises that the problem cannot be solved by a simple government decree, instituting some formula for redistributing wealth, reforming the tax system of setting upper and lower wage limits. What is needed is a national strategy that simultaneously stimulates and promotes economic growth, and promotes and supports social justice. Strikes and sit-ins protesting poor government services or low wages are major signs that the question of social justice is still at the peak of priorities in the political struggle in Egypt.

- The civilian-military conflict. This still persists largely because civilians who presented themselves to serve as political leaders for the post-25 January period committed every conceivable mistake that anyone qualified to manage the affairs of the state should avoid. The question now is how to educate and equip a civilian elite to shoulder a share of responsibility instead of just cursing the current situation.

- The bureaucratic-democratic conflict. This is age-old, persistent and to be found in every country in the world. On the one side stand those who represent or enforce a country’s laws, regulations and fixed principles; on the other are the popularly elected officials in parliament and the executive who have to answer to their constituencies and to the public as a whole.

When one reads the most important works of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on this subject one realises that a major secret of the success of his developmental experiment was that he subordinated the bureaucracy to a democratic political authority and subjected the democratic political authority to objective governmental performance criteria.

Such unique experiments are only to be found under unique leaderships. In his regard, I have also mentioned another crucial equation in this column: bureaucracy will kill development and political autocracy will destroy the economy unless we have a leadership that is thoroughly aware of this dynamic. The question is how do we in Egypt formulate that difficult balance between bureaucracy and democracy.

- The generational conflict. This is generally manifested by the youth who rebel because they believe that the old do not run the country wisely, have failed to live up to their pledges to develop and modernise the country, and do not respect the lives and sacrifices of the revolutionary generation. This conflict is sapping this country’s energies and capacities.

At the same time, there is a chronological continuum that links those “old timers” with the “young folk”. The problem is that that the former transmit their problems to the latter and produce among them students who end up following in their very footsteps. My hope for a way out of the vicious cycle is for the young to realise their latent strengths while simultaneously trying to benefit from the views and advice of the old, without becoming captive to their conflicts, backgrounds and overblown egos.

- The gender conflict. There is a tendency among men to look down on women and regard them as though they were creatures of inferior intelligence. When I discuss this subject with some associates and colleagues I find myself countering ideas I cannot accept and sometimes end up producing such responses as, “Okay, so we’ve got to have a girl with us so we can look good abroad.”

- The Muslim-Christian conflict. This phenomenon continues to rear its head from time to time and we should not ignore or deny it. There is a real problem in the relationship between Christians and Muslims in our society, especially in rural areas and informal urban settlements. The term conflict here does not necessarily imply violence, the most salient and obvious manifestation of it.

There is a disturbing sectarian discourse that glaringly jars with the spirit, and indeed scriptures, of both faiths that call for brotherly love, rectitude and tolerance toward the other, and that encourages mutual aversion and ostracisation. This question requires considerable careful thought and attention so that we can end a malignancy that erupts in our face from time to time and move into a more all-embracing vision for society.

- The centre-periphery conflict over limited resources and, above all, the resources needed for human security and development. Cairo and a few other intensely urbanised governorates seem to revolve in their own world, remote from the problems and strains of the other governorates, which are often ignored as though they were not part of Egypt. How do we remedy this dilemma?

- The development-underdevelopment conflict. This is a conflict between the ideas and values of education, development, technology and progress, and the ideas and values of ignorance, illiteracy, backwardness and destruction. It is a cultural problem that compels all the institutions responsible for shaping culture, from the educational system to the media and religious institutions, to adopt a comprehensive discourse that encourages the development of the Egyptian human being in a manner that equips him or her to contend with the challenges of tomorrow. The alternative is to reproduce and aggravate our backwardness.

- Regional leadership versus vulnerability. Egypt right now is at one of its weakest nadirs because it is dependent on the magnanimity of others. Sealing off borders, fighting smuggling and infiltration, and repairing foreign relations on fair and equal terms are not luxuries. But Egypt needs to do more, because it is expected to play an active role in the crises of other countries in this region. If it is to do so, it should be able to draw the line before we send in ground forces and are dragged into quagmires.

The writer is a professor of political science at Cairo University.

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