Once I finished watching Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s speech to Egyptian youths last week, I jumped out of my seat with the intent of going to the nearest doctors’ union to urge them against striking. The field marshal has succeeded in totally changing my idea about Egypt and its “ungrateful sons” who only want to take without giving anything to their beloved mother - Egypt.
The field marshal, spoke in the kind tone that only a traitor or agent would fail to notice. He said: “You need to give more than you take,” adding that this is what he tells his officers to urge them to work and serve the people. He then gave a beautiful example of a poor family whose son – upon graduating – paid them back for what they had done for him.
The truth is, this is an amazing example I can use when arguing with the ungrateful doctors who only ask “what will we take from Egypt” and who never ask “what will we give Egypt.”
Those greedy doctors!
These doctors have studied for years to end up being assigned in remote areas. They are then reassigned as deputies in the Ministry of Health just to spend inhumane hours at hospitals, running from clinic to clinic. In the end, they make just enough money to pay their phone bills. Damn these doctors who dare ask anything of Egypt!
I remember that a year and a half ago, doctors affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood occupied the general assembly of doctors to thwart demands to hold a strike. Back then, these supporters - men and women - reserved their seats and performed their Friday prayers facing the wrong qibla (direction for prayer) and without anything separating the sexes in order to guarantee that they vote against the strike. Back then, the Brotherhood said: “The doctors must be tolerant for Egypt’s sake.” Fatwas were also issued prohibiting the strike.
Egypt is “us” and not the state institutions which are being protected from being held accountable under excuses of confidentiality and national securityBassem Youssef
Remember this scene today because in the next few days, the same doctors who stood against the Brotherhood will be accused of being Brotherhood supporters and terrorists.
Three years ago, the Brotherhood organized a campaign dubbed “hire me instead of him” to support the military council against the strikes and workers’ revolution.
Remember that, because when strikes erupt in the country, media outlets will tell you these strikers are Brotherhood supporters.
I changed my mind and didn’t go the headquarters of the doctors’ strike as it seems the slogan of “what have you given Egypt” will not yield any results with these ungrateful people.
Think of Egypt before breakfast
I turned my attention back to the field marshal’s speech in which he asked youths: “Did you ask yourself what have you done for Egypt before you had your breakfast?”
I swear this is just the right question! If I go to workers’ strike at factories and public transportation commissions, I will certainly find out that they’ve had their breakfast and are full and I will realize that all that’s happening is merely a mockery to take from Egypt without giving anything.
The field marshal told youths in the same kind tone that they must think about Egypt before thinking “when will I get married and when will I get to live my life.”
It’s as if Egypt is a virtual mythical creature that can only live off powerless youths who don’t think about marriage and who don’t even dare have breakfast without thinking of how to present themselves as a sacrifice to the country!
I totally understand the field marshal’s speech in which he encouraged youths not to be selfish and to realize that what they do affects the country. This is all beautiful. But I wonder: Whom is the field marshal directing his statements to? Is he directing them to youths who can’t afford to get married or to workers with bad working conditions or unemployed people who don’t enjoy the luxury of having breakfast before thinking about Egypt?
The field marshal further wondered: “Have any of us thought about walking to work or school to economize for the sake of the country?”
The truth is, this is a genius solution to decrease the high pollution in Cairo. But practically speaking, does the field marshal know that some people live in faraway suburbs and work or study in downtown Cairo? If the people respond to this noble logic, will ministers, army officers and major generals respond to it too? Will we all thus stop using cars and public transportation? Or will we count on the poor to do daily exercise on our behalf after they don’t eat their breakfast because they feel guilty for not doing anything for Egypt?
Talk of austerity is nothing new to us. Before this, Mubarak upset us with his famous statement: “how will we afford this?” Now, field marshal Sisi is telling us: “health insurance? How will we afford that?”
Therefore, we must be unjust towards a generation or two, as he puts it, in order to ensure continuity for Egyptians to come. Who are those people who we suffer? Are they the ones who will survive the upcoming 30 years of injustice? Or are they the once who will continue to sabotage the state budget via wages and huge commissions?
Is Sisi’s economic agenda based on “bear this,” “tighten your belt” and “economize?”
If this is his agenda, then he must take it to governmental institutions and not to youths and citizens whose purchasing power will decrease if they economize, leading the country towards economic depression.
During the years of the great depression in the 1930’s, instead of tightening their belts and asking people to starve more than they were starving, the Rockefeller family and masters of American industry piped massive amounts of funds into the state to carry out the biggest construction initiatives in north America.
Recession and inflation cannot be resolved by further tightening the belt but by encouraging citizens and investors to recycle their funds by injecting them into the market.
Before the field marshal asks us: “what have you given Egypt,” it would have probably been better if he directed this question to the army’s economic institutions which control a huge percentage of the country’s economy without the presence of any real accountability or taxes from which Egypt can take what rightfully belongs to it from those who took what they wanted.
Simply adopting a policy of economizing is not a solution. The policy of tightening belts does not build a nation’s economy. A nation’s economy is built via an appropriate atmosphere for investment and via creating job opportunities and imposing fair taxes on literally everyone. Terms like “decreasing expenditure” and “economizing” only apply to institutions of public funds. If you want to cancel subsidiaries, then cancel them for those who don’t need them.
Egyptians outside Egypt have tried hard to implement developmental and educational plans but many of them left Egypt again due to corruption, bureaucracy or political stubbornness. The media, dear field marshal, has accused everyone who carries a second passport, and everyone who even lived outside Egypt, of being a traitors or agents until proven otherwise.
What’s strange is that the media which admired calls to economize, tighten the belt and bear Egypt’s difficult circumstances is the same media which used to mock Mohammad Mursi, Hisham Qandil and their comrades, when they talked about cotton clothing and closing shops at nights. Now, it’s the same media demanding that people wake up at 5 am to go to work. But it seems they missed Sisi’s statement “people want work? How will we provide that?”
Not a burden
The people are not a burden on the country but an energy source that must be invested in.
Egypt is not an entity separate from us. It’s not an entity that needs to feed on us. Egypt is the youths who want to get married and live. It’s the workers who want a proper salary, and the doctors who want a decent living to serve patients who deserve decent healthcare.
Egypt is “us” and not the state institutions which are being protected from being held accountable under excuses of confidentiality and national security.
Is this the economic program awaiting the country? Will we keep hearing more phrases such as “be patient” and “how can we afford that” and “[the population] is high and it keeps increasing?”
Perhaps it works. Who knows. Let’s ask citizens about the repercussions of this program a few years from now. I am sure they would respond in utmost happiness as they think of the country before having their breakfast. I am certain they will smile in satisfaction as they tighten the belt on what’s left of their skeleton.
This article was first published in Shorouk News on March 11, 2014.
Bassem Youssef is is an Egyptian doctor, satirist, and the host of El Bernameg ("The Program"), a satirical news program broadcast by a private Egyptian television station. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. Despite all controversy and legal debates it has sparked, El Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Youssef's YouTube channel one of the most subscribed to in Egypt.