There is a stark contrast between the official rhetoric and what is actually happening on the ground. This contrast seems in many cases to be intentional and the message is clear. I should recall an old Egyptian proverb that says: “I believe you when I hear you talk, but I am taken by surprise when I see you act.” Looks like surprise has become commonplace for us!
The contrast I am talking about is the one that causes this general state of fear from the future.
According to the official version, Egyptians are equal and the government serves them all indiscriminately, but when we look at facts on the ground we see that discrimination has not only stopped at religious and political ideologies, but has also extended to the degree of loyalty to the “group.” I don’t think many Egyptians see that what is said on the official level is implemented on the realistic level.
The official discourse condemns all sorts of infringement upon the rights of Egyptians, while we see several infringements go unpunished. The official discourse vows to protect personal freedoms while those freedoms are constantly violated.
Extremist groups like the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice are given free rein in several cities and the regime is turning a blind eye. We did not see any firm stance on the part of the government that would discourage youths who join those groups that take the law into their hands under the name of religion.
Leaders of the “group” say that the president is for all Egyptians, but exclusionist policies prove that only members of this group or those loyal to it or sympathetic with its line of thought are the ones who can claim this country as their own.
Among the several aspects of this contradiction between talk and action are statements stressing the state’s commitment to protecting all its citizens accompanied by an extremely mild reaction towards extremist practices that target specific groups. A flagrant example was the forced immigration of Christian families in Sinai, which was seen by the government as “freedom of movement” since, according to the official response, those families “willingly chose to leave.”
Statements condemning the injustice that had befallen the families were only issued after that earlier reaction was harshly criticized all over the media. Only then did officials assert the families’ right to go back to their homes.
In the past few days, I took part in several meetings in New York about the concepts of the civil state and the religious state. I am not going to go into the details of the discussions that took place during these meetings, but I would like to stop at one sentence said by the organizer of those meetings, lawyer Maged Riad. This sentence sums up the ideal way of dealing with this contradiction between officials’ words and actual actions. It was said in response to the words of a sheikh who attended the meetings, saying that in a Muslim state, Muslims will protect Copts.
“We do not want a state in which we are protected by Muslims,” Riad told him. “We want a state in which we are protected by the constitution and the law.”
I guess that this sentence might offer a relative solution to the problem of this contradiction between the verbal and the real. We want a state that abides by the law and the constitution and not one owned by a specific group and its supporters. We want rules that apply to all Egyptians, not tribal ideologies that give preference to one group over another. This is a country that dates back to thousands of years ago. I hope those who rule it now realize that and act accordingly and work towards eliminating this contradiction.
The writer is a former head of news at Egypt’s state television.