“So one of the presidents probably briefed you personally after the meeting?” I responded sarcastically to a friend who informed me of the content of a secret deal supposedly made years ago between former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his US counterpart Bill Clinton. Egyptians not only conjure illusions, they tend to personalize them based on their individual aspirations. Our propensity to make up narratives that suit us is limitless.
It often entails reinventing the Middle East, usually by splitting up nations and creating new ones. Egyptians spend their days “connecting the dots,” trying to understand many issues that are only known to very few senior officials. Unfortunately, many of them spend a significant amount of time coming up with hypotheses that are based purely on ignorance. Advancing false arguments contributes significantly to the spread of ignorance.
State secrecy stimulates many Egyptians, including “experts,” to invent political scenarios, such as that Christians in the south will establish their own state, or that the Sinai will be taken from Egypt. This is a direct result of leaving the interpretation of political issues completely to citizens’ imaginations. While the views of these “experts” may be entertaining to some people, they come at the expense of magnifying our ignorance.
Imaginary tales will not resolve the many challenges facing the Middle East. The state should play a better leadership role by mentoring and guiding its citizens.
As the leading world superpower, the US (regardless of the administration in power) is the “usual suspect” when it comes to identifying hidden hands dividing and conquering the Middle East. The narratives and arguments I hear give me the impression that our region is a sweet pie that “big brother” is effortlessly slicing up and distributing.
People need to learn some basic facts. Having many unrealistic scenarios in the political sphere confuses and misleads citizens, and makes them jump to conclusions based on misconceptions. Not every political issue can be shared with the public, but the only way to educate people to distinguish between fact and fiction is to advance their knowledge of realpolitik.
Imaginary tales will not resolve the many challenges facing the Middle East. The state should play a better leadership role by mentoring and guiding its citizens. Egypt’s government could help people fine-tune their thinking processes by releasing some facts to the public. We need to establish a common factual platform. Leaving even the fundamentals to citizens’ imagination has led to our current state of paranoia.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. He can be reached on Twitter @MohammedNosseir.