While movies intensify the tension among viewers for a couple of hours at the end of which they are rewarded with a pleasant ending, life in Egypt seems to have ousted righteousness, making it look more like an illusion. The result is that we have been held in the grip of genuine anxiety for years now — deprived of the slightest glimpse of pleasure.
A conservative, religious society by default, we Egyptians give significant portions of our incomes to charity. Nevertheless, parallel to charitable donations, large portions of our incomes go on what people may define as tips or gifts, but which in fact are much closer to being bribes than benevolent monetary gifts. The former help us to open life’s closed doors while the latter give us access to heaven. The widespread prevalence of both makes it difficult for many Egyptians to distinguish between the two.
“I pay bribes to get my missing rights,” is how many Egyptians justify bribery, which has become a subjective matter, left to people’s judgment. The ambiguity of the law and almost nonexistent enforcement have created a situation in which each citizen defines justice from his own perspective and behaves in the manner that suits him best — to the extent that some of us believe that the sins we commit contribute to the good of society. Many Egyptians are trapped in a situation where they confuse what they define as regaining their missing rights with what is in fact an abuse of power. Both practices should be condemned, legally and morally.
The spread of this vice is clearly threatening both the morality and modernization of Egyptian society; nevertheless, people’s justification of it as unavoidable makes it impossible to eradicate. Sin, naturally, wields more weight and its impact on society is much greater than virtue. Imagine that sinful and virtuous acts were committed in equal measure; sinful behavior would rapidly penetrate and corrupt society, immediately undermining the rule of law. Virtue, in contrast, is more of a long-term effort whose effects are not instantly realized.
Individually, we Egyptians tend to justify our own sinful acts, while easily pointing out and denouncing the vices of our fellows. The tendency to highlight the vices of others and not acknowledge our own misbehavior helps to spread sinful behavior across society. This paradoxical attitude works on eroding righteousness and virtuous behavior, regardless of their magnitude, eventually leading people to complain of the rising rate of sin in our society. Sadly (and of course falsely) Egyptians believe that their virtuous actions redeem their vices.
Everyone knows good from evil in a classic Egyptian film, but in real life charity and bribery are both so common that it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.
Human beings possess a combination of good and bad behavior; they possess solid knowledge of a few topics and are significantly ignorant of many others. However, an ignorant, narrow-minded person who (strengthened by the belief that he is right) behaves badly — and is not even aware that he is committing a sin — certainly contributes to the spread of vice. We do not notice that every single, tiny sinful action that each one of us commits accumulates, creating a society that is lacking in virtue — and which we eventually complain about. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government declines to play the role of mentor to stop the erosion of our moral social standards.
People who believe that their overwhelming virtuousness will absolve them of their sinful acts are indulging in wishful behavior that contradicts the reality, which is that sinfulness is literally permeating the entire society. Attempting to manage and balance vice and virtue can only leave us living in a truly sinful world.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir