The Egyptians have changed. They now fear for Egypt, take pride in everything Egyptian, and would jump through hoops on its behalf. More importantly, they stand on guard ready to pounce on anyone who mocks or bears malice towards their country.
Many a time I have commented on the Egyptians’ apparent indifference to the challenges engulfing Egypt. These challenges have demanded immediate attention, reform and rectification, but they have remained sluggish, apparently ready to stagnate further in the grip of a perception that nothing can change or improve and that Egypt’s destiny is set to remain in a rut.
Ridicule, jokes and mockery underestimate such challenges and consequentially underestimate Egypt and its people, turning everything into a trivial farce.
The indifference has been so blinding that the good and the bad have got entangled together, allowing us to build haphazardly, behave chaotically, err arrogantly and see calamities go unheeded.
Some Egyptians have considered themselves to be above the law. “Do you know who I am?” is a question that has guaranteed some indiscreet above-the-law freedoms, and since everyone errs, why shouldn’t I err, too? “It’s not that I am the only one doing it” has been the common excuse, turning the unacceptable into an acceptable norm.
Today, many are asking if the Egyptians have changed, or if they are still exactly where they were: apathetic and complacent and unaware of the ramifications of such a demeanour.
Let’s start a few years back. As some justly called for freedom, justice and dignity on 25 January 2011, others released prisoners from jails and attacked police stations. Others sought to loot, vandalise and burn property, a perfect analogy of how the good and the bad got intertwined.
Soon afterwards, Egypt faced a period when it faltered as it had never faltered before. It was then that the silent majority, or as some would say, the Couch Party (those who contemplate events from afar), realised that the abyss was imminent. Egypt as they had known it seemed to be gone for good.
But then a new leadership exonerated Egypt. It came promising hard work, respect and a strong stand against corruption. “Long live Egypt” became a usual description for many attitudes.
Here, the fear of the abyss that Egypt seemed to be at the edge of blended with the hope of a better tomorrow to create a new Egyptian, one who seemed to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, one who readily believed in Egypt and what it offers, and one who took pride in everything Egyptian.
Jokes will remain an integral part of Egypt and the way in which its people deal with everyday life. But the degrading mockery and deprecation of what we all value, extremely common before the revolution, has no place in today’s Egypt.
Egyptians today are proud of their history, civilisation and ability to survive hardships and come out the other end stronger and more resilient.
They fume at the Western media when it misjudges or offends Egypt. When the TV channel Euronews described Hisham Ashmawi, the terrorist caught in Libya and brought back to Egypt, as a “prominent dissident,” it was thus held accountable. It had to change its headline on the subject to “Egypt receives Hisham Ashmawi, one of the most wanted terrorists.”
It also said that “we have modified the original title of the story by correcting Hisham Ashmawi’s description; we apologise for the error, which does not necessarily reflect the editorial line of Euronews.” The Egyptians were vindicated.
The pride associated with renowned Egyptians such as footballer Mohamed Salah and actor Rami Malek stems from their being Egyptian, with their actions confirming this affiliation.
Most Egyptians had not heard of Mina Massoud, the young Egyptian actor who plays Aladdin in the Hollywood movie, but when he hailed Egypt in a “Long live Egypt” shout, he immediately became a household name.
When economist Mohamed Al-Erian became president of Queen’s College at Cambridge University and Dame Minouche Shafik became the first woman to head the London School of Economics, Egyptians were thrilled.
When Magdi Yacoub was named as one of the world’s most famous medical legends, again they were gratified. When civil engineer Hani Azer was awarded Germany’s Order of Merit, the Egyptians cheered.
Every time athletes such as the amazing Egyptian swimmers and squash, taekwondo and weightlifting players win medals their photographs are immediately sent out on the Internet as true Egyptians.
Egyptians not only take pride in individuals, but also places, heritage, history and effort. The natural beauty that Egypt has was always there, for example, but it is only today that it is truly appreciated and bragged about. Comments such as, “these are not photographs of the beaches in Nice, but of Marsa Alam or Sahl Hasheesh,” or “this is not from Paris, but the Fifth Settlement,” and “Downtown Cairo as it should be,” speak of this pride.
Even old neighbourhoods get the same appreciation, “#GamaleyaNeighbourhood, I will support Egyptian tourism” is one hashtag.
The pride associated with major projects such as the Sinai Tunnels or the Axis of Rod Al-Farag prove that the Egyptians are on track as they hope for more and more improvements. Their pride in the opening and closing of the African Cup of Nations football competition was unprecedented.
Philanthropists have multiplied in Egypt allowing charities to multiply, too. Dozens of major hospitals have been established in Upper Egypt and other regions.
Although we have not overcome corruption completely and maybe we never will, the corruption that used to be in everyone’s face in an unabashed fashion has somewhat diminished for fear of the consequences. Even ministers can be charged and found guilty.
The arrival of such striking changes was inevitable, but two elements needed to come together to create the appropriate milieu: fear for Egypt and hope for a better tomorrow.
Have the Egyptians changed? Of course they have. Do they crave even further change? Absolutely, but they are undoubtedly on the right track.
*The writer is a political analyst.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Whatever happened to them?