The coming role of the middle class

Samir Sobhi
Thursday 4 Jul 2019

How can the Egyptian middle class be strengthened as a key component of national development

The middle class is an essential component of progress. That’s why special attention has long been paid to this class, the class of educated citizens.

Any neutral observer assessing the current economic situation in Egypt would certainly notice a remarkable improvement in the country’s performance.

Despite the crises from which the region suffers, the latest economic indications show that we are slowly but steadily heading towards our targets.

The fact that the world has now become like a small village necessitates a rearrangement of the international order. Rich, middle and poorer countries should be part of this process. Let’s agree that we are all facing new economic challenges.

Economists deal with such challenges from a different perspective, believing that solving economic problems mainly lies in moving the poorer classes into the middle class through focusing further upon education and healthcare.

A seminar organised by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria recently entitled “The Egyptian Middle Class: Challenges and Opportunities” thus attracted my attention.

Ali Gelbi, a professor of sociology at Alexandria University, said at the seminar that the middle class was the “arbiter of society.” In other words, the middle class was capable of maintaining a balance between the two other classes of the upper class and the lower class, he said. 

The middle class was the backbone of society, Gelbi said. He added that for this reason phrases like “farewell to the middle class” sounded ridiculous, as the “role of the middle class in society will never end.”

However, while the middle class will never disappear, it needs to be supported and helped to keep its identity. Could the current economic and social changes lead to its erosion?

The middle class is known for its morality, including tolerance, modesty, self-denial and cooperation. However, privatisation, which calls for selling assets off for money, has deeply impacted this class, causing some to ask what could happen if the middle class became effectively bankrupt. From here comes the necessity of increasing the number of middle-class citizens.

However, this will not be an easy task, given that the members of this class are strong advocates of birth control.

The importance of the role which the middle class plays has been increasing. It should be part of a national project, supported by this class’s members, who have lately found themselves in the middle of new challenges.

Privatisation, the financial crisis and globalisation are some of these, and to be capable of facing them the middle class should invest more in education.

They should aim to have a better knowledge of modern technology to assist them in playing a full role in national projects.

The survival and growth of the middle class is linked with education, and in recognition of this there are now universities in every governorate in Egypt, as well as others setting up in the country from outside.

For sociologist Tharwat Isaac, education is the best investment the middle class can make. Their children should all be encouraged to get university degrees in order to keep the familial inheritance intact.

Unfortunately, the middle class has sometimes lost its way due to various social, cultural and political factors that have prevailed in Egypt at different times. The emigration to the Gulf countries that took place in the 1970s, for example, or to Canada and the US to some extent weakened the middle class in Egypt.

If we try to examine the status of the middle class today, we should not forget what we could call the “cultural loss” that has come about as a result of the recent revolution in technology and the media.

This has led to a distortion of social values, which in turn has opened the door to violence, addiction, trafficking and sexual harassment in society. This has also come about as a result of a fragile democratic climate.

The subject is complicated, and it deserves to be discussed from many angles. It is also related to forming the modern Egyptian citizen in a globalised world.

The role of the media should have priority in this, as “building a good citizen starts with good media.”

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The coming role of the middle class

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