“If you don’t have a brother, try to find one” is an Egyptian saying that many believe and live by. Having someone to take care of you is a cultural trait and an obvious privilege; for many Egyptians, it is pure bliss to live in a state that takes good care of its citizens. The “Big Brother” concept – wherein the idea is the government literally feeds, educates, employs, entertains, and even buries its citizens when needed – has been well established in Egypt for centuries.
The Egyptian state subsidises bread to feed its population, over-employs millions of citizens (turning a blind eye to corruption enabling them to enhance their incomes), and provides free schooling, free medical coverage, and a variety of entertainment programmes 24-hours a day. On top of all this, the state compensates its citizens’ daily suffering by creating narratives designed to inflate their egos and enhance their happiness.
Egyptians at large are happy to receive these services, and desire even more. They may be annoyed with state bureaucracy and the poor quality of services, but they certainly do not want to dismantle the existing relationship. Since the majority cannot distinguish between the government’s assumption of its duties and the granting of favours, they tend to accept exchanging freedom and justice for the privilege of being fed and entertained. This is to the extent that some highly educated Egyptians holding Masters and PhD degrees, unable to find employment on their own, beg to be hired by the state.
Egypt’s Big Brother syndrome is the current expression of an outdated nation. It continues to use old entities and a 1960s mentality to rule a society, where over two-thirds of the population was born in the 1980s or later. The large segment of the population living in the 21st century, learn about the system in developed nations and thus, has little regard for Big Brother’s old-fashioned mindset. Substantial population growth and unchanged resources have led to the deterioration of services and privileges provided by the state. Big Brother is probably aware that the power it used to wield to unite and mobilise citizens in bygone days, has dwindled considerably.
Big Brother perceives those who advocate for “good governance”, based on genuine political participation and freedom of expression, as enemies conspiring against the state. Changing governments, the voicing of diverse opinions, and applying true democracy are all aiming to abolish its role. It genuinely believes in its mission to protect citizens and refuses the transfer of power to either the masses or to a religious group that does not, in essence, recognise the state.
On a smaller scale, the relationship between youngsters and their parents reflects that between Big Brother and citizens: an elderly generation wants to maintain control over its adult children, attempting to impose upon them its old-fashioned ideas and lifestyle. In this way, the mission and behaviour of parents and Big Brother are very similar, if not identical; being in charge of their “children’s welfare”.
The 25 January Revolution in 2011 was a milestone in Big Brother’s life. By demanding freedom, justice, and dignity, millions of Egyptians rejected Big Brother’s status and the tools it uses to rule. Gathering a million citizens in Tahrir Square is quite easy in a country with 90 million inhabitants, so demonstrations have been outlawed altogether. Fulfilling the revolution’s demands would mean completely dismantling the Big Brother concept, therefore, another revolution in Egypt would not be tolerated.
Big Brother has been left with no other option than to polarise society into either friend and foe, using its remaining ruling tool, stability and security as leverage to bargain with citizens; it is applying a harsh, repressive policy on Egyptians at large to regain its control and status. Big Brother does not want Egyptians to forgive its mistakes; it wants them not to notice them, to be grateful that it is still around, even if it is not functioning. Big Brother wants Egyptians to reshape their minds and bodies to fit the mould it designed decades ago. Reforming the old mould is unacceptable to Big Brother. Therefore Egyptians are left with a single option: to replace the existing mould with one that is modernised and better-functioning.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy.