By saving change for six months, I once bought my husband an Omega watch as a birthday gift. Sure it was many years back, and sure it was the least expensive watch in the store, but an Omega is an Omega.
Just married, having not yet begun my teaching career, and living overseas, I couldn’t come up with the money to buy any gift, let alone an Omega watch, except by saving change. My husband still cherishes the watch as the gift that surprised him the most.
I remembered this incident when President El-Sisi took to the stage at the launching of the housing project in Alexandria and asked Egyptians to donate extra "change" to help fund Egypt’s social projects. “You can put the extra change, the 50 piasters or pound of your day-to-day transactions, towards social projects.”
He also suggested donating the extra 80 piasters when cashing a salary of, say, EGP 1,250.80. “We are talking about possibly 20-30 million people. If everyone donated their extra change, we are talking about a significant sum," he said.
This initiative, donating change, is not original but followed all over the world: on flights an envelope in your seat pouch asks you to donate your change; at airports, the see-through box with a plethora of coins or small change is a common sight.
What use will you have for the few Kenyan shillings or the handful of South African rands once you return to your homeland?
At some stores, a similar box calls on you to donate, and at other stores, the cashier asks you if you would add a dollar that would go to a certain charity, especially during festive seasons; this while the Salvation Army has its members jingle bells at you as you enter a store reminding you to donate your change.
Of course, the complainers, those who emit negativity, remain steadfast in their disgruntlement finding fault with all efforts. They also mock and scorn the “change” initiative, but I’m sure the concept of donating change will catch on. Remember those early days when change became scarce or insignificant, so candy, gum, or even a book of matches replaced it? Now, change has dissipated altogether, so why not direct it to a good cause?
The president of a state exudes a will and a course leaving his mark on the citizens of the nation. He may effect change by example or by direct approach. President El-Sisi has not only encouraged Egyptians to partake in the responsibility and become participants instead of spectators, but also passed on other tenets that hopefully Egyptians will embrace.
So today I will not focus on political successes or economical endeavours or even challenges, but on salient characteristics that El-Sisi is subliminally instilling in Egyptian, by applying these characteristics himself, thus encouraging Egyptians to take them on themselves.
Days after El-Sisi became president in June 2014, he asked Egyptians to assist in bolstering the economy and overcoming economic shortfalls. He set the course by example, so he donated half his wealth and salary to Egypt, and hours later, the central bank established the account “Tahya Masr” (Long Live Egypt) at Egypt’s National Bank and Bank Misr to receive donations. It was a smart move, for though Egyptians donate and pay zakat and oshoor—Muslim and Christian obligatory donations— the concept of donating for one’s country was novel, at least in modern times.
Since then Tahya Masr has made extensive headway, bringing in billions and utilising these billions for social improvements. Tahya Masr projects include housing developments such as the El-Asmarat in Cairo and Gheit El-Enab in Alexandria and providing medication treatment to those inflicted with the depilating disease hepatitis C.
President El-Sisi also called on Egyptians to “bid Egypt good morning” by sending a pound over the phone. Again, the initiative picked up. And now he asks Egyptians to donate change, another innovative idea.
This while stories of donations, support, and solidarity fill social media validating the concept of giving and sharing for Egypt’s sake: from the man who vouched to pay all the interest on the principal he invested in the Suez Canal Project to Tahya Masr, including the change, to the old woman who went to the bank to donate EGP 200, and when she was asked if she had enough money to survive the month, she dived into her worn and torn wallet and found 50 pounds: “Yes, I have enough,” she said; the stories are endless.
From another perspective, President El-Sisi is the epitome of courtesy and civility. He has never offended or insulted a person or incited Egyptians against a group or a country. It is not in his nature to provoke hatred or ignite antagonism.
Neither President Mubarak nor President Sadat were discourteous or unmannerly, but President Nasser was relentless in his disparaging and slighting his enemies—presidents and kings alike.
President El-Sisi, on the other hand, respects everyone, making no distinction between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy or between leaders and laypersons. He is above chitchat, name-calling, and blatant attacks. Even his enemies have yet to be denounced by name or openly. Those who have brazenly attacked him are never mentioned; those who give him the cold shoulder are still respected. As Egyptians, we haven’t followed suit yet; this has yet to come, but I’m sure that Egyptians are taking it all in.
While all previous Egyptian presidents had their moments when they bellowed their messages at the top of their lungs, ex-President Morsi deserves the title of the best of the best. From day one, he shouted his mediocre views and haphazard nuances.
As for El-Sisi, his tone of voice remains soft and low-pitched. It demands listeners listen carefully. If Egyptians would take only this characteristic after him, Egypt would become a better place.
When El-Sisi began his now ingrained-in-all-speeches greeting and ending “Long live Egypt,” Egyptians were slightly surprised and a bit embarrassed. At first repeating the slogan didn’t come naturally to them, but in a matter of a few months, Egyptians began to follow suit and repeat “Long live Egypt” unabashed.
Now it is acceptable to show one’s sincere emotions towards Egypt. El-Sisi’s devotion to Egypt has enthused Egyptians to reciprocate the same feelings. Egyptians had taken Egypt for granted. After all, it is their home whether they like it or not, so they grumbled, complained, and took everything with a grain of salt. And here is the change: an apparent and loudly voiced love for Egypt.
Noteworthy salient temperaments may become firmly fixed in Egyptians, for by example we change and hopefully improve.
The writer is author of Cairo Rewind: The First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution.