Patriotism from the perspective of polarized Egyptians
“The enemy inside” is the best definition of the current state of polarization in Egypt. But who the enemy is depends on which segment of society the question is addressed to. Although the members of each political faction have been Egyptian nationals for a long time, allegations of treachery have intensified and spread across our nation over the last few years, running contrary to the tradition of united nationalism that was experienced by countless consecutive generations of Egyptians.
In Egypt, two societies that completely mistrust one another are living in a single nation. One social segment is affiliated to the ruling regime and only works on offering strong sentiments of support to the government. The second segment is constituted of marginalized opponents who horrify the state and its affiliates and who are willing to harm either one, whatever the cost. Regardless of their exact numbers (which are unknown), both parties exert considerable influence in society.
With the spread and growth in magnitude of what is defined as political Islam, the leaders of this movement have managed to undermine the true essence of “patriotism,” replacing it with what they define as “Islamic values” — a religious principle that supersedes patriotism. In return, the state has been working on turning its affiliates against political Islamists, which has resulted in a significant widening of the polarization. Although patriotism and Islam have completely different purposes, what matters here is how effective each group is in carrying out its mission.
From the perspective of the ruling state, the ultimate political objective is to maintain the unity of Egyptians. Nevertheless, this call for unification is directed only to state affiliates, who are economically privileged and empowered by current law enforcement entities. Opponents of the state, labeled “evil people,” are formally outlawed and are obviously willing to enact the allegations leveled against them. Meanwhile, both factions are harassing the sizeable, but non-influential, portion of society that belongs to neither sector.
In Egypt, two societies that completely mistrust one another are living in a single nation.
Patriotism in Egypt is very subjective. Some believe that it is worth offering their life for, while others believe the opposite; thus, every group is practicing patriotism from its own perspective. Since Egyptians cherish and respect fabricated narratives, both sides are using this tool to serve their respective political goals — obviously at the expense of our country. Political Islamists condemn and deride every single government project, while, in return, the state’s affiliates accuse them of treachery.
Meanwhile, our history of consecutive foreign occupations has made Egyptians suspicious of any foreign political accord or investment. The result is that foreign investment in Egypt is perceived by society as a selling of our national assets. The government, meanwhile, accuses civil society organizations that accept foreign funding of subversion and treachery. The harm that Egyptians have done to our country over the last few years is substantially greater than any that may have been inflicted by the exaggerated actions of foreign nations.
The gap between the two polarized parties is broadening substantially, resulting in their further isolation. In Egypt, each citizen tends to have his or her individual political belief, and it is quite difficult to get anyone to modify their belief, or even to tolerate other outlooks. The polarization of our society has developed beyond political forces; family members and friends who have different political views now keep their distance from one another. I am not sure whether Egypt currently has any foreign enemies, but it is an easy task for any nation to penetrate a polarized society.
Egypt needs to identify common ground and activities that all segments of society can agree upon, and that no party will attempt to undermine, relegating the controversial issues to a constructive debate among all political forces. The entire Egyptian society should work on impeding the current polarization from dragging our nation down. The first constructive step that can immunize us against the nefarious effects of polarization is to apply fair and firm rules to the entire Egyptian society.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.