To the Egyptian govt, don’t talk down to your people

Egypt should talk with people at the right time and while also using their language and respecting their intellect

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

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When I previously on wrote why Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should be elected as the Egyptian president, I said that the basic givens of the Egyptian situation logically lead to failure. I said the country’s security, economic and political givens implied definite failure and that the only one capable of leading Egypt to alter this reality is a man who can push the Egyptian people forward. I, like millions of others, found Sisi to be the only man fit for this task.

However, there are no guaranteed results without conditions. The president requires tools and the question here is: is the tool set complete? Are those in charge of implementing the new vision the most capable? Let’s take the decision to raise fuel prices. It is a good example as it’s one of the most dangerous and important economic decisions the Egyptian government has taken in years. To begin with, I think this decision is completely the right step in the context of economic reform which Egypt will not be able to achieve unless difficult decisions - of which the first is raising fuel prices - are made. But is the manner in which the decision was made right? I have some qualms regarding this.

The basic problem

A long time ago, I said the basic problem which Egypt’s consecutive governments have suffered from is their inability to communicate with the people. To be accurate, it’s the governments’ inability to speak the language of the people. The second issue is that in addition to the lack of communication, there’s a delay when they actually try to communicate. Take the last decision as an example. What happened was that they did not pave way for this decision before it was announced to the public - although the Egyptians are most of the time willing to understand such decisions. This is why when this decision was issued, it stirred public discontent. The prime minister’s and some ministers’ explanation the day after the decision was announced is the right measure, but there are reservations about its timing and content.

The basic problem which Egypt’s consecutive governments have suffered from is their inability to communicate with the people

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

The information they presented was very important but it came very late. They should have previously explained this information in order to prepare the public before making that decision and in order to create some sort of dialogue. What’s certain is that most people, regardless of their social status, won’t be happy that fuel prices have been increased. However, if people had been respected and engaged, a state of understanding would have prevailed.

Negative connotation

The other important note is the government’s use of old terms that have a negative connotation in Egyptians’ minds. One of these terms was used and it’s that of “moving prices.” The Egyptians consider this latter expression to be deceitful, and a phrase that underestimates their intellect. The Egyptians, as well as officials, know that the right term here would be “increasing prices.” Therefore, let’s talk with people at the right time and while also using their language and respecting their intellect.

President Sisi fixed a lot when he addressed the Egyptians the next day. However, I still think people needed to hear hopeful as well as realistic messages during that phase. I must here warn that the people’s affection for the president must not always be counted on to overcome crises that could have been avoided if we had properly addressed the public earlier.

This article was first published in al-Masry al-Youm on July 16, 2014.


Abdel Latif el-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of “Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak,” a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom, and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy

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