Search form

Last updated: 10 min 57 sec ago

You are here

Egypt’s true challenge: Its masses

The prospect of millions of illiterate citizens protesting in the streets with no leadership, no clear affiliations and no common mission is the ultimate challenge that might confront Egypt. The state already experienced this during the revolution of Jan. 25, 2011, when millions demonstrated with many demands that were difficult to meet. Asking them to go home empty-handed was just as difficult. 
The state’s faulty policies are provoking another mass uprising that will probably come at a substantially higher price. Masses are much like a chain: Once it is broken, it becomes very difficult to put back together. Masses do not have an ideology to defend or a clear attachment to a political party; their individual economic condition is what triggers them. 
Since they tend to spend most of their time on the streets trying to make a living (legally or illegally), bringing them to public demonstrations is very easy. Masses tend to work in wealthy urban neighborhoods, going home at the end of the day to the inferior areas they inhabit — and noting the huge contrast between the two. 
The state does not have a policy of capitalizing on the energy of the masses to develop the country; on the contrary, it works to ensure they are suppressed to prevent any revolt. The state’s usual patriotic rhetoric does not stimulate the masses’ nationalism in the least. Their eagerness to survive overrules all state rhetoric. 
If educated, wealthy Egyptians work to serve their personal interests, the masses also think of their own immediate benefits, but the situation is worsened in the latter’s case because they are irrational, impulsive and have nothing to lose. 
The masses, who are the clear majority of Egyptian society, are easily incited and mobilized by nonsensical arguments. During the Jan. 25 uprising, Egyptians were very excited to hear that then-President Hosni Mubarak’s wealth amounted to $70 billion. The news motivated them to stay longer on the streets, hoping to get their personal share of his wealth. A few citizens even applied for bank loans, offering their shares of Mubarak’s wealth as collateral.

Even if we were on the right economic track, which we are not, true political and economic reforms will take years to yield results.

Mohammed Nosseir

The state does not draw upon the sophistication of educated Egyptians to help handle the burden of the masses. The police use the masses to pressurize and manipulate educated elites, who often complain about their misconduct. On the other hand, as long as they are at a distance, elites are not really concerned with the plight of the masses. Occasionally, during elections, they try to woo voters from among the masses, but turn a deaf ear to them later. 
The masses will continue to live in poverty and illiteracy for years. Even if we were on the right economic track, which we are not, true political and economic reforms will take years to yield results. Pundits often call for the need to provide quality education for the masses, but education is a long-term issue in the context of our present challenges. Meanwhile, the state policy of marginalizing and crushing the masses is increasing their frustration and aggregating the possibility of more revolutions.
Although the main theme of the Jan. 25 uprising was the revolt against Mubarak and his family, the true revenge that the masses sought was from the police (tens of police stations were ransacked and burnt). Mubarak was more of a media icon; following his court trial kept people busy. To avoid instability, the state needs to formally integrate the masses into society, not necessarily by offering a government job to each citizen, but by giving them a chance to live a decent life that they will work to protect.
There is a single, effective and spontaneous channel for organizing an uprising in Egypt: Inciting the masses against the state. If they work effectively, political parties and civil societies are the only entities that can control the energy of the masses. So we need to work on strengthening these entities to take up this role. The masses are in desperate need of a smart, fair and firm engine to move them forward. This is the only way to manage and restructure this unpredictable, uncontrolled segment of society. 
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.