The president’s speech and sanitation workers

Maasoum Marzouk
Friday 29 May 2015

Forces behind 25 January and 30 June should protect the present regime, rather than leave the scene open to international and regional agents to play with Egypt’s fate

I wrote this article shortly after the president’s televised address, at the end of the day on which ‘Good Morning Egypt’ had announced the justice minister’s resignation because of his unfortunate statements about the opportunities available to the sons of sanitation workers.

Irrespective of the visual aspects of the president’s address (directing and technical mistakes), he did a better job this time than previously. He spoke of hope without underestimating the difficulties ahead and clearly highlighted some issues.

I believe that the importance of the president’s address resides not only in what he said, but also in what he did not say. It contained hints, without it however seeming to purposely conceal anything, perhaps because the president and society as a whole are on the brink of a critical phase, teetering between doubt and certainty.

The common rule is, if society is facing some problems, the best way to deal with them is a serious attempts to end them or alleviate their impact, either through tangible measures or changing public morale by, for example, redefining these problems to convince public opinion that they do not exist, or that they are beneficial.

Throughout history, religion, magic and art have been used to do this. (Hence the saying: Religion is the opium of the people).

The president appears to have chosen a middle ground between these two approaches.

In his address, he revealed determination to put an end to the causes of problems such as terrorism, but he seemed less confident when it came to corruption. He defined this problem in a manner that may justify its existence and continuation, at least for some time to come.

Although the president’s most significant accomplishments over the past ten months have been on the diplomatic front, he chose not to speak extensively about this and was too brief on this vital regional and international issue.

I believe the president’s address came at a very sensitive time, and he must be aware that every day pressure is building among large sectors of society. There are signs that cannot be ignored that international moves have reached the region with the aim of ousting or undermining the regime in Egypt.

Without going into details, there is talk in some European capitals and in Washington about “post-Sisi scenarios”.

Western observers have started to feel sources of concern and anger in Egyptian society: The resignation of the minister of justice reveals a facette that we had been ignoring or intentionally do not want to see.

We all know the minister said something that is a truth about Egyptian society. He was honest and realistic, and did not need to be politically sensitive in a cabinet that has divorced politicking for good.

What is astonishing is that he is the justice minister, and that what he said entrenched injustice.

This is not the only contradiction in Egypt’s political and social life, but the danger here is that the minister did not realise that he had been appointed after two revolutions that raised the banner of “social justice”.

Slogans alone are not enough. The president can speak for several consecutive nights about noble goals and good morals without any of this being implemented, because this society’s attitudes are carved in stone. In fact, those who carved these attitudes in stone are still on the frontlines and sidelines of power.

There are also those who purposely build walls around those in power to block out real voices or to prevent the cries of victims from reaching the rulers’ ears.

They are the same servants of Mubarak’s regime who plundered the crops and livestock, and isolated the man until he fell from his pedestal of “the hero of the first airstrike [in the 1973 War]” to the bottom of the pit as a common criminal who had stolen public funds -- at least according to the latest court ruling against him.

I believe it is time for the real forces behind 25 January and 30 June to protect the gains of their revolution and to build bridges with the president to protect him from the brokers of politics and men of all seasons.

The president must also be aware that these forces exist, and that Egypt’s youth and poor are its backbone. He must extend his hand to them, and listen to their dreams, hopes, ideas and initiatives.

Activists should not leave the scene open to international and regional plots and local agents to tamper with the fate of Egypt and the region.

Those who believe that justice also -- and especially -- includes “the sons of sanitation workers”, must convey their thoughts and ideas so that they are the focus of the president’s next address, and the plan of action for the rest of his tenure.

When this happens, “Long Live Egypt” will be a reality for each one of its citizens, without discrimination. “Long Live Egypt” will be more than a mere slogan, despite the political brokers and those who steal the joy of simple Egyptian citizens.

Last but not least, we must not ignore the fact that the justice minister’s resignation was not because of his unfortunate statements, but because of pressure from public opinion.

This is a good sign for the future, because the Egyptian giant is awakening -- albeit slowly. Our duty is not to allow anyone to lull him back to sleep or to strike fear in his heart so he returns into his cocoon. The liberty and dignity of the Egyptian citizen is the true shield that protects the political regime.

The writer is former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister.

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