In-Focus: Diversity and difference

Galal Nassar
Wednesday 31 Jan 2018

The strong state is that blends and manages difference and diversity; the weak state is one where a solo voice echoes

Politics is defined as the art of managing diversity and difference among elements of the political equation. This diversity holds within it conflict over gains and perhaps the interests of a person, party, political current or ideology. The success of an existing system and regime is measured by the ability to accommodate all actors and always safely conclude this peaceful conflict and guarantee a measure of stability, security and progress created by positive conflict for the benefit of the system, society, individuals and institutions.

This formula is always based on established rules everyone agrees on and is part and parcel of the concept of a national state, including respect of sovereignty, borders, pillars of the state and its institutions. It is also the dividing line between accepting these ideas and those who operate within this framework, and others working against the notion of the state, borders, sovereignty, and modern concepts of economic and political union as per a national state.

The ideology of a group such as the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, is opposed to the concept of a national state, and calls for a political system under the banner of a caliphate similar to what Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi or Recep Tayyip Erdogan or the Muslim Brotherhood guide and founder Hassan Al-Banna or ideologue Sayed Qotb would say. Muslim Brotherhood ideology, tools and members are dedicated to destroying the societies they live in and putting them in constant clashes with all that exists and is established.

Otherwise, the absence of any other ideological or political currents that believe in the fundamentals of a national state and the rules of political engagements in modern societies is a failure of the political system and those in power. The absence of these nationalist currents opens up countless vacuums for groups to operate outside the system, ideology and politics. The current political scene in Egypt is a good example of the absence of politics, currents, ideas, and parties, which allows for gaping vacuums and for anarchy in all its forms from the far right to the far left. It also creates a clear crisis due to the absence of political cadres qualified to engage with the political domain and requisites such as parliamentary, presidential or local elections.

We see candidates who have no political, popular or ideological backing, perhaps a deputy of a political party being created, or a leader of a current that has no features or structure or grassroots and is clearly without the ability to mobilise supporters. The result is devastating defeat at the polls and on the street, either with negligible results in elections or failure to secure the necessary signatures to contest the elections.

Similar to politics, if diversity and differences in the media are absent then the profession is dead, innovation is lacking, as is the ability of those in charge to manage this diversity who insist on conformity and a single voice. This creates an atmosphere that threatens both the profession and politics, strips the system of credibility, and creates immense vacuums that many from outside this system step into and fill, in the flow of news, information and analysis. This embeds chaos, unprofessionalism and fabrication that eventually become the new rules of the profession in the absence of a vision and ability to function and endure.

About half a century ago, president Richard Nixon was critical of the US media as a monolith that lacked diversity, plurality and variety at a time when there was a handful of television channels, magazines and newspapers. This was before the media explosion in the third millennium when society reached political maturity and realised it needs three types of media outlets that address all elements of a diverse society. First, media that combines entertainment and information that targets the general public, including major national television and radio channels, and permanent US media networks and their local affiliates.

Second, channels, media and press affiliated to political parties, such as Fox News and MSNBC. Third, quality media and press for the elite, decision makers, businessmen and politicians, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Politico and The Atlantic.

Society and those in power succeeded in managing this diversity and differences for decades, until now under President Donald Trump’s administration, which is in constant clashes with most media outlets. It has become a scene of constant bickering that mixes politics and professionalism until they became two sides of the same coin that intertwine when analysing the situation.

In Egypt, diversity and difference are absent in the media and press. It is a scene that lacks professional and political standards, lacking the roles of development, entertainment, information and enlightenment. Traditional media outlets have lost their influence and readers and viewers have sought other outlets in search of diversity and difference to meet their needs, or they fled to social media or satellite channels coming from Doha and Istanbul that incite against the state in support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the absence of diversity and difference, there is no dialogue or constructive criticism or cadres that believe the media is the most important platform to address public opinion and shape awareness. There are those who believe that any dispute is a punishable crime because it divides ranks and threatens security and stability, at a time when the country is waging a fierce battle against terrorism. However, those who think this way lack basic awareness, differentiation and understanding, which is why we have relapsed on many issues.

Diversity and differences are a necessity to build societies and safeguard them against infiltration; they guarantee the foundations without allowing vacuums to open into which others pounce to take advantage of minds, consciences and awareness.

Open the windows to all forms of diversity and difference in ideology, politics, media and culture because this is wealth and a shield against all conspiracies and threats that restrictions aim to protect against. A failure to allow for diversity and difference is what has created today’s dismal political and professional scene.

*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly

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