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Egypt needs a change, not in regime, but in cultural logic

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Restructuring of institutions to create a more efficient bureaucracy free from corruption so that Egyptians no longer depend on the mercy of governmental officials to procure their basic needs of daily supplies and services is a priority.

Dina El Sharnouby
10 February 2013

Let us assume in a perfect world, in a perfect Egypt, the ruling Freedom and Justice Party with its grassroots movement the Muslim Brotherhood find a way to form a coalition with the Salafis, Liberals, and the Socialists. Let us assume for a moment enlightenment descending upon all political activists, movements, and parties to unite in common goals to build a better Egypt – one that is democratic in allowing people from different religious backgrounds, gender, and classes to live a dignified and peaceful life.

Within the realms of the current power dynamics, it can be assumed that such a coalition will manage to embrace different ideologies, but the parliament and government would most likely be led by the members of the Muslim Brotherhood through the Freedom and Justice Party. What will come next in that best case scenario? First, the restructuring of institutions to create a more efficient bureaucracy free from corruption so that Egyptians no longer depend on the mercy of governmental officials to procure their basic needs of daily supplies and services.

Within the past couple of weeks, I have been running around governmental institutions to register for water and electricity supplies. Entering the buildings, many Islamic sayings are pinned on the walls and many employees have the Islamic patch (Zebiba) on their forehead assumed to arise from the frequency of their prayers. In most of these places you will notice there is this one person that you have to negotiate frequently to tell you what to do next. You do not receive initial instructions about how best to prepare for this ordeal. No, instead, first off you go to this person who tells you what you need to do. After filling the many forms, signing papers, and copying your personal ID and so forth, one has usually to go back to this person to guide you through the next stage; more forms, copying IDs and making the necessary payments. Apart from the tedium, the system has some merit. This one person who one has to refer to is the golden key to getting things done slowly or efficiently. But you are at the mercy of this one, usually lower class person, who might ask you for a personal payment, to be interpreted either as a bribe or as a tip rewarding their “personal” efforts in helping you get the service done quickly.

So one cannot assume that their Islamic affiliation renders them incorruptible. This is not simply a matter of personal choice, but rather because the system has so many flaws and the rule of one party, ruled by Mubarak over many years, has ingrained in most institutions to this day the tendency to be a one man show. So the bigger challenge of course is to change the system.

Yet, neither the current regime nor the opposition focus on such important imperatives for change. If the logic of the rights of citizens does not change, Egypt will not be moving forward any time soon. Indeed, I strongly believe nothing is more important than this cultural change. If for example, citizens are informed ahead through the internet or other information systems of what they are to expect in entering any governmental institution, they could know what they are asking for, how many forms to fill in, how much to pay – and not be at the mercy of that one person.

Citizens could then see “democratization” at work in their simple day-to-day services without even having to explain to a person who lives below the poverty lines that they should have human rights. The logic just needs to be shifted to the understanding of how a citizen could get their services done to be able to monitor the governmental officials and hence eliminate corruption. This is not a mere change in the system but in governance and most importantly in the logic and culture of the citizens at large.

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