In Egypt, is ignorance a matter of choice or destiny?

Mohammed Nosseir

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Decades of persistent failure to advance our country from a developing nation into a knowledgeable, developed society has led many people to the erroneous conclusion that ignorance is Egypt’s destiny! Yet quite the reverse is true. I believe Egyptians deliberately seek to avoid the truth; they replace fact with fiction to avoid facing reality, thereby creating an ignorant society in which every citizen claims, falsely, to be well-informed! Actually, I believe an ignorant society is the reflection of an authoritarian state that perceives knowledge as a threat to the autocratic ruler.

Keeping the vast majority of Egyptians in a state of ignorance will do nothing to help our country to progress; it can only serve to hold us back.

Mohammed Nosseir

Ignorance in Egypt is well articulated! For years, it has served to split society into two groups: a very small number of people who are well-informed (but are not recognized by society and are never invited to express their opinions publicly), and the vast majority of the population that claims, incorrectly, to be knowledgeable while having no clue about the issues they present. Nevertheless, I believe the state often prompts these people to express their opinions publicly – in order to misguide citizens further.

Living in ignorant bubbles

Those who believe that education advances people’s knowledge are mistaken. Personal preference is the key determining factor in choosing between ignorance and comprehension. Educated people deliberately only accept knowledge that suits their preferences and personalities, completely disregarding facts that are not to their liking. Illiterate people on the other hand may be unable to differentiate between fact and fiction, but the number of illiterate citizens who have a good understanding of Egypt’s political dynamic and who are easily able to see through the false, heavy-handed state propaganda has often surprised me. Meanwhile, many well-educated citizens believe and enjoy the state’s ridiculous narratives, continuing to live happily in their ignorant bubbles.

I believe the Egyptian state has been mobilizing the media through a method of continuously broadcasting propaganda aimed at inflating the ruler’s status. It dismisses all information from foreign sources by blithely accusing these sources of conspiring against Egypt. Several decades ago, in their desire to know the truth, Egyptians used to try to tune into foreign radio channels to learn about political developments in their country. Nowadays, most people have access to a multitude of satellite channels, and the Internet is a source of abundant information – yet ignorance is more widespread in Egypt than it was a few decades ago!

Furthermore, state manipulation of the media has encouraged a major section of society to express its opinions on social media networks, counter-attacking the state by using the same method – the conveyance of false narratives. The combination of state propaganda and fictitious social media reports has exacerbated the deterioration of basic common sense among Egyptians, leading the entire society to debate nonsensical issues, with everyone assuring their peers that their information comes from trustworthy sources. Of course, the condition of ignorance is not a uniquely domestic issue; millions of citizens across the world (many of whom live in fully transparent countries) believe in stories that do not exist. However, in most developed countries these people are not in the driving seat.

People sometimes argue that disengaging the masses from learning the true facts about their country is a good thing; it enables an authoritarian ruler to function in peace, without having to deal with any debate. In fact, deliberately maintaining a society in a condition of ignorance and depending completely on a single citizen (the ruler) undoubtedly limits the ruler’s knowledge and places the burden of all the nation’s challenges on his shoulders alone – instead of capitalizing on the entire society as a focal source of knowledge.

Living in such a mindless society for decades should encourage citizens to acquire their own independent filters (that are unaffected by their personalities) and to apply them prior to digesting any information. A fair assessment of the truth should come first; the expression of preferences should follow. Sharing absolute facts with citizens would enable them to contribute to the resolution of their country’s problems and would certainly relieve the state of many of its challenges. Keeping the vast majority of Egyptians in a state of ignorance will do nothing to help our country to progress; it can only serve to hold us back.

Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician who advocates for advancing liberalism, political participation, and economic freedom. Mohammed was member of the higher committee at the Democratic Front Party from 2007 to 2012, and then member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptian Party till mid 2013. Mohammed advocates for his work through providing the Egyptian government with a number of schemes to better reform its government institutes, as well as he is a regular contributor to various Egyptian newspapers. Mohammed also has extensive experience in the private sector, working with a number of international companies assisting them in expanding their businesses in the Middle East. Mohammed graduated from Faculty of Commerce, Ain Shams University, Cairo (1986); he participated at Aspen Seminar on Leadership, Values and Good Society (2011), Eisenhower Fellow, Multi-National Program (2009) and Stanford Fellow for Democracy, Development & Rule of Law (2008).

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