Egypt was in turmoil for several years after the 25 January 2011 Revolution, moving rudderless and with uncertainty about the ability of institutions, individuals, political parties, groups, media and press to lead society to safety and stability.
Even though, state institutions and agencies closely monitored the situation and took action to maintain an even keel in the face of the storm that toppled other countries in the region. They addressed every development based on the higher interests of the state of Egypt.
This turmoil created an unprecedented fluid condition in the political, media and press arenas accompanied by distinct economic deterioration such as a halt in manufacturing, a marked drop in national revenue from tourism, remittances from Egyptians overseas, Suez Canal revenues, a retreat in exports and increase in imports.
This triggered a retreat on all fronts, including depletion of intellectual and professional calibre and competence, allowing inept and unqualified ministers, officials and elites to rise to the top.
Meanwhile, corruption networks permeated all aspects of life in Egypt and everyday activities due to a long history of bureaucracy, financial and legislative corruption.
Corruption became an institution in itself and a way of life for a large segment of citizens and institutions, despite efforts by monitoring agencies to rein in these networks and prosecute many notorious cases that included key and senior figures in the state.
The desire to rebuild and overcome this difficult reality in harsh times as fast as possible led several actors in the state to reshape this reality and engineer the political and media scene to coincide with an economic reform programme and timelines.
This engineering of reality with such difficult components could succeed or fail.
The reality that was engineered in the media and press sector failed to transport Egypt to the next stage, even though much time has passed since the creation of authorities and councils that control this scene.
Figures and faces were shuffled around, but to no avail; mergers and purchases of several channels, websites, media and press institutions has so far disappointed the aspirations of the country’s leaders who believe another overhaul is urgently needed to improve performance.
This may not be successful due to the absence, retreat or exclusion of key professionals, who, by the way, can be counted on one hand.
The same thing but on a larger scale is occurring in re-engineering the political party scene by creating a legislative and political climate that allows mergers and alliances among parties to create political and popular support for economic reform and developments, especially as we approach difficult economic decisions that need support in order to continue on this successful march.
Despite praise according to international standards and testimonials by global institutions, this needs more domestic support to be truly successful.
Those engineering the scene forget that these parties lack real grassroots support on the street, in villages, hamlets and valleys.
The history of Egyptian political life shows that Egyptians participate in politics for two reasons. First, believing in the ideology and platform of a party, whether secular or religious; second, to receive a direct benefit which usually means supporting the party closest to power.
Both reasons sabotaged political life in Egypt. Some citizens were satisfied with belonging to religious parties, movements or groups, while others joined a party close to power and created a network of corruption which triggered an uprising demanding justice and human dignity.
Both types caused the destruction of everything. The former when they manipulated the dreams of Egyptians and rose to power and imposed religious fascism; the latter when they corrupted political, economic and social life and failed the first test to meet the people’s demands in a power vacuum.
The third model to engineer reality is creating a generation of youth based on a clear vision, approach and principles – whether they agree or disagree.
However, they remain isolated away from reality on the street. The youth chosen for this experiment are undoubtedly competent, patriotic and true believers in the national project, but they remain confined to a political greenhouse where they are raised.
Experience has shown this is not the best solution for preparing youth in the larger sense, or overcoming their clash with authority, society and reality.
There are several ways to overcome this and prepare the youth. The best way is for it to occur in a natural environment and setting, under the sun, experiencing all elements and shocks in order for cadres to be a natural outcome through maturity and accumulated experience.
Engineering could succeed sometimes in the short run to solve some problems, but in the long run based on the nature and progress of societies and countries, the situation requires more understanding of reality.
This way, it is not a fixed construct that stifles innovation and creativity and imposes types of people, mentalities and intellectuals that do more harm than good.
This is a key lesson for those who read and study history, and Egypt’s history is the best teacher.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 June 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly with headline: In-Focus: Engineering Egyptian reality