Famous Egyptian actor, Youssef Wahbi, once said in a film that “life is nothing more than a big stage.” The phrase has since become an Egyptian saying yet, if Wahbi were still alive today, he would have said, “Egypt is nothing more than an absurd stage!”
Indeed, what we are witnessing every day in Egypt is unimaginable and reaching the level of delirium. Every day there is a new story, or shall I say joke, that adds to the absurdity of this play, the many acts of which have been viewed daily by the Egyptian people since July 2013. It is clear from the current course of events that the play will not end any time soon, but instead will continue with its ironic and bitterly laughable acts.
The latest fantastical scene began last week, with the aim of making the play more exciting and attracting the attention of the world. Such wishes came true, as media outlets around the world broadcast the scene and Egypt became the laughing stock of the world. In this scene, the Egyptian Minister of Health, Hala Zayed, awoke from her slumber and devised a magical solution to improve the deteriorating situation in Egypt’s hospitals. Perhaps she had dreamt it in the ecstasy of her appointment, which occurred out of nowhere, perhaps even by mistake. Immediately after being appointed, Zayed issued an administrative decision requiring all government hospitals to play the national anthem twice a day, followed by the doctor’s oath, on the intercom in every hospital. She said that this would reinforce and strengthen patriotism among those listening, including patients and staff.
This incident explains to us how officials in Egypt are chosen – it shows us the type of ministers who have plagued our people. Zayed’s decision indicates her low intelligence and ignorance regarding the nature of her work and the responsibility on her shoulders.
Her first decision as a minister should have been upgrading the hospitals and raising the level of professionalism in them. She should also have vowed to present proposals and solutions to resolve the treatment crisis in Egypt, given the poor conditions state hospitals have reached. She should give doctors their financial and moral rights, given that they regularly receive low salaries despite spending several years qualifying and working hard in hospitals. Egyptian doctors only make about $112 a month, and receive less than $1 in infection allowance. In addition to this, they are constantly subject to attacks by patients’ relatives due to the lack of services and resources in the hospitals, especially if that relative is a police officer. However, the Minister of Health did not look at any of this; instead, she seemingly thought the national anthem would cure patients, give doctors their rights and fix the entire health sector in Egypt.
No country in the world has ever made such a farcical decision. Does this mean that the people of these countries are less patriotic than the Egyptian people? Or does it mean that the officials of these countries respect the mentality of their people, work to serve them, and are loyal to the people, not the president?
The Health Minister’s decision was met with fierce attacks and scathing ridicule by Egyptians, who expressed their feelings on social networking sites with jokes mocking the minister. However, Zayed did not back down from her decision. Instead, she became more committed, forcing it to be applied in all government hospitals.
It is interesting that the Egyptian Prime Minister, Mostafa Madbouly, was completely absent from the scene and did not dissuade Zayed from her decision in order to stop the mockery that harms his ministry. This either indicates his complete satisfaction with the decision, or indicates that it is the state’s policy. The Minister of Agriculture during ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, Youssef Waly, said in the past that ministers in Egypt are only employees of the Head of State. This statement remains true today.
This trend is further reinforced by the fact that, about two months ago, state officials wanted to strengthen the national affiliation of schoolchildren in a scene no less satirical than this. At the time, the Minister of Education forced all public schools to make their students sing the Sa’ka Forces (Thunderbolt Forces) anthem in the morning, despite its strange words “what did those people say about us, what did they say?”
The concepts of belonging and patriotism are flawed among tyrant Arab rulers. A citizen’s sense of patriotism and belonging to their homeland is an innate, internal feeling that cannot be fabricated by a national anthem. Nor can it be stirred by a piece of cloth the people did not choose, but are then forced to hold and wave while standing to salute.
Rather, what does reinforce and strengthen a national sense of belonging is for citizens to feel a sense of freedom and dignity in their own country and for their human rights to be completely guaranteed and protected. They must feel involved in their country’s revolutions. You cannot demand a strong sense of patriotism from a citizen who cannot make a living or find work after years spent studying, while the children of elites have jobs reserved for them even before they graduate. How will this sense of belonging be strengthened if graduates see, with their own eyes, the military, police, judiciary, and diplomats being given special treatment and privileges? The regular citizen cannot access such privileges, even if they graduate at the top of their class, because these positions are inherited throughout the generations.
We have not made progress since a young man graduating from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science committed suicide during Mubarak’s rule. The student was ranked first in his class and dreamt of working in diplomacy, but was rejected because his social class was too low. He felt he had no other choice but to commit suicide. Unfortunately, there are thousands of cases similar to that of this young man.
As for the Health Minister who claims her decision promotes national patriotism, didn’t she ask herself how she could demand that a patient, who cannot find a bed in hospital and cannot find proper treatment, standing humiliated at the hospital doors begging for their rights, should feel patriotic towards the very same country that humiliated them and violated their dignity? When will these tyrant leaders realise that the citizens make up the country and, without them, it becomes a wasteland without life or prosperity?
Two days after the scene with the Health Minister and the national anthem, we witnessed a new scene, where the main character was the Minister of Supply. He made a statement announcing the addition of vitamins and minerals to flour being used in the production of subsidised baladi bread. This sparked criticism and ridicule among the people, with some fearing that these additions aimed to weaken fertility in men in order to reduce the population growth. The reduction of population growth is a goal repeatedly announced by officials. The previous Minister of Health and Population announced that means used to reduce population growth in the past had failed, so they would seek alternatives.
This declared goal of population reduction is rendered all the more satirical in light of the fact that the House of Representatives legally approved the sale of citizenship to foreigners for close to $390,000. The House of Representatives, acting under the gaze of state officials, did not delay the approval of the government’s demand. The state officials decide and the House of Representatives legislates its decisions, enshrining them in law. This is a state of complete obedience and loyalty to the ruler, not the people, who are the source of the authority in all the parliaments of the world!
The play is ongoing and continues with its absurd acts until God decrees otherwise.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.