A few days ago during an English class, I moderated a student who recalled a recent visit to the US. He was stunned at the fact that the sales assistants not only greeted him upon entering a store, but would also bid him adieu upon leaving. This was received in awe by the rest of the classmates, as one inquired, “Even AFTER the mutual interest was over?” A skeptical other added, “How about if you hadn't made a purchase?” “Even then!” the former student quickly replied.
Havoc was raised as a few disgruntled citizens lamented their current fate, while others complained of the rudeness of shop assistants and the rest discussed the latest trends in men's clothing.
This, in a nutshell, exemplifies the state of the Egyptian public; between the desperate and depressed, the morbidly self-absorbed, and the completely unconcerned.
"Havoc was raised as a few disgruntled citizens lamented their current fate"
This class of 15 represents a cross-sector of the middle-classed, educated Egyptian public. I managed to record some of their more or less unanimous answers to standard questions that were raised throughout our conversations:
One was: What's the first thing you should teach your child? The answer was, “to not let anyone take what's rightfully yours” (this was received with approving nods, and the addition of “or whatever it is that you want”).
Another question was: Where do you see yourself ten years from now? The answer to this was a tie between, “where I am now” and “hopefully out of the country.”
But the final mind-boggling replies were to the question, what do you think is our biggest national problem? 70% of the answers were either “Muslim Brotherhood” or “The military.”
Everyone who answered was very certain of their response and quick to dismiss opposing opinions. Many were keen on sharing their opinion and eagerly partaking in any political discussion; but very few seemed willing to reflect.
This enticed me to do a simple experiment to further analyze the situation. I assigned the class a simple task of “doing an unexpected and selfless act that does not involve giving away money or anything materialistic.”
STORY BY MAGDI ABDELHADI The revolution wants another revolution
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
I was pleasantly surprised when three of the younger students chose complete strangers for their acts of altruism: helping an elderly woman with her groceries, offering to babysit a new neighbor’s child, and finally playing the violin free of charge at a nearby school's music recital.
While the acts themselves were quite different in nature, they did have one thing in common: The baffled and slightly suspicious reactions of the recipients.
Some would describe Egyptians as being paranoid, plain and simple. Thirty years of corruption along with their repercussions have led everyone to assume the presence of either a hidden agenda or conspiracy theory in each of their daily handlings and tasks.
If you're part of Egypt's upscale society, then the hired-help is trying to bleed you out dry, and the waiters at a restaurant are milking you for all you're worth, because they're all bitter and vindictive.
If you're part of the lower class, then you're so full of rage at not receiving the most basic of human rights that you're eager to vent out at every opportunity. This is one of the byproducts of living in a country that has been ranked number six in the world's most depressing countries to live in, and is still headstrong about its obsolete and outdated ways, that no one stands a chance.
"My personal favorite: stereotyping"
From the bottom of the social hierarchy pyramid right to the very top, you’ll still find the grave errors of placing culture before the individual, making the latter subsidiary. Putting trust in the most seemingly secure outlets without making an effort to do some in-depth research of its credibility, and my personal favorite: stereotyping – meaning to fixate on the shell hard enough to crush the core, then deem it faulted...
A headline that went viral throughout the intellectual community was the Uruguayan president's philanthropic decision to admit one hundred Syrian refugees into not only his country, but his very home. Although this undoubtedly startled the international community, their Egyptian counterparts added something else: an inquiry of his intentions and full disclosure of the terms of this act (alongside a covert wish to become an international refugee).
So why is it that nepotism is now the core of the Egyptian job market? Why is it that hospitals buy malfunctioning medical equipment on the cheap? And why are Supreme and civil court judges accepting ample briberies at large?
Because it's now socially acceptable to do so, “everyone has to make a living,” corruption is condoned, justified, and while some individuals may have the courage to blow the whistle, their voices are quickly silenced with accusations of self-righteous idealism, or attempting to cover up their own dirt (yes, the public is more interested in a juicy story of framing and conspiracies than the legitimacy of the charges).
Everyone is holding their breath in wait of the long overdue wake-up call that will turn things around for us but no one is willing to actually lift a finger, except to blame someone else.
It has become an inside joke in Egypt that we always brag about our previous achievements, our rich cultural heritage, in order to cover up for the current epic failure. Our moral standards are at the same place as our stolen capital – another land.