CAIRO: I made a vow not to write a word about the dismal events preceding and following the Egypt-Algeria World Cup qualifiers last month. In both countries, the media’s frenzied, hysterical reaction to the violence following the Khartoum game was an abyss of ethical and ideological degeneration I refused to be dragged into when feelings ran high. And now that the dust has settled, it’s wiser to let sleeping dogs lie.
I haven’t, however, made any vows not to discuss the huge billboards that began mushrooming throughout the city, flaunting the Egyptian flag, reminding us of Egypt’s great Arab leaders, and that we should be proud to be Egyptians.
The signs were a typical outdoor branding campaigns for their big local business sponsors, cleverly striking while the iron was hot in an appeal to nationalist sentiments and patriotic zeal. It was a perfect pitch.
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that, but wouldn’t the hundreds on thousands spent on fuelling a sense of frantic nationalism in response to the actions of a handful of football hooligans been better spent reminding Egyptians of other more pressing values?
Allow me to explain why I’m a little angry.
Yesterday, on two separate occasions as I braved the notorious streets of our sprawling capital, I watched motorists in the vehicle in front of mine as they flung small plastic bags of garbage from their car windows onto the adjacent pavements. At least they had the courtesy not to throw their filthy refuse at any pedestrians, but naturally the bags came crashing down, spilling their nauseating mixture of solid and liquid waste all over the sidewalk.
On both occasions I was tempted to catch up with the offenders, pull them over and lecture them on the ABCs of how a “proud Egyptian should dispose of their garbage; to remind them of the first lesson we are taught in religion classes, the tenet that “cleanliness is part of faith no matter what your faith is, and that keeping your city clean is part and parcel of practicing your faith.
Naturally, I refrained, knowing full well that my words would either be met with a tirade of verbal abuse, or that the offenders would throw their other bag at me.
Why is it that our rich businessmen don’t spend their hard-earned CSR cash on promoting ideas like keeping our country clean, fighting corruption, respecting each others’ human rights, acknowledging our different faiths and promoting solidarity between them to rebuild our country?
Since the 1952 military coup that ousted this country’s last king and turned Egypt into a pseudo-republic, Egypt’s consecutive leaders since Nasser, with their multiple governments, have failed to deal with the moral decadence that has infested Egyptian society like termites gnawing through wood until it is now on the verge of total collapse.
I’m not justifying or disputing the unacceptability of such behavior, but the reasons for it are all too clear: We Egyptians have had no role model throughout over five decades marred by corruption, a deteriorating economy, growing class tensions and an amputated justice system that sounds great on paper, but fails to effectively protect citizens’ rights.
In an interview with reformist Judge Hisham Bastawissi a few years ago, he told me that Egyptians are not politically apathetic as they have often been described, but they have chosen their own form of civil disobedience through negligence in the workplace, general inefficiency, and lack of respect for public space.
When the government realized that the cumulative negative effect of bad behavior by touts and taxi drivers was ruining Egypt’s reputation as a prime tourist destination, it launched a full-fledged public awareness campaign on radio and TV explaining that one mishap with a tourist can take its toll on the entire economy. Just how effective this campaign has been, it’s difficult to tell, but I believe that it was a long overdue necessary initiative.
Our business community needs to sponsor similar campaigns targeting a slew of bad behaviors, especially when it comes to issues that the regime has not chosen to prioritize, such as corruption and how detrimental it is for the economy that Egypt ranked 111 out of 180 on Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perception Index. With a CPI score of a dismal 2.8 indicating the perceived level of public-sector corruption, Egypt is preceded by Qatar at 22, the UAE at 30, Oman at 39, Bahrain at 46 and Jordan at 49. Of the Arab countries, only Libya, Iraq and Somalia had a worse ranking.
As the saying goes, “the truest characters of ignorance, are vanity, pride and arrogance .
Ignorance of our shortcomings combined with the promotion of a false sense of pride are a formula to turn us into a laughing stock and it’s high time we did something about it.
Rania Al Malkyis the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.