When the president of Egypt labels a segment of Egyptian society as the “evil people”, he probably does so based on a particular inspiration of his own. The phrase may have been coined to better serve the president politically, or the president may genuinely believe in the existence of a “true evil” that he has been assigned to pursue and combat. In either case, it is a phrase that leaves a bitter feeling among millions of Egyptians, who should either be prosecuted fairly (if they have committed crimes), or be left in peace.
In the democratic world, the debate among citizens and different political parties centers upon ideologies that aim to better serve their respective countries and citizens. There are no ‘devilish’ issues in anyone’s agenda. However, in Egypt, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has redesigned the country’s political structure by claiming that it is challenged by the “evil people”, implicitly implying that he and his affiliates are the “good people”, designated to fight evil. This accusation is doubtlessly pleasing to the president’s affiliates and strokes their egos, to the detriment of his opponents (whom he defines as the enemies of Egypt).
In fact, there is no good and evil in politics; what the president considers an evil act is undoubtedly perceived by others as a moral deed that benefits our country. Blaming the “evil people” for all the deficiencies of the Egyptian state is an irresponsible attitude that will not help the state recognise, and eventually remedy, its faults. Furthermore, not specifying exactly who is ‘evil’ leaves us with a broad and ambiguous accusation that could implicate millions of citizens.
Al-Sisi has had a blessed career path; he served in the Egyptian Armed Forces for almost four decades then (endorsed by the military and supported by what is labelled as the “deep state”) ran for, and won, the presidential elections. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have been risking their lives struggling against Egypt’s authoritarian regimes to establish freedom, justice, and dignity. Even those who believed that violence or terrorism was the only option left open to them deserve to be prosecuted fairly, and the state ought to do its best to bring them back into line, without labelling them as “evil”.
As a liberal politician attempting to reform Egyptian institutions to better apply and enforce the rule of law, I always remind myself that the only fair and free parliamentary election in Egypt’s modern history, held in 2012, gave nearly three-quarters of the seats to political Islamists generally (whom I consider opponents and with whose ideologies I completely disagree). The fact that almost no opposition currents or Islamists are represented in the present parliament does not mean that Egypt has gotten rid of its “evil people”, it means that the state has adopted a rigid and naïve attitude in dealing with our challenges by temporarily marginalising a large portion of Egypt’s political factions.
Al-Sisi should work on enhancing moral values among Egyptians, not on splitting the country into two opposing societies (the good and the evil). Individual citizens embody a combination of virtuous and vicious traits. The president’s role is to formulate policies that aim to enhance citizens’ virtues at the expense of their vices; continuing to accuse people of being evil serves only to intensify their evil traits, or at least, to turn them into destructive citizens.
Societies made up of people who are different will exist and function forever. The proposition advanced by President Al-Sisi wherein he presents himself as the “righteous” leader fighting against evil is completely unsustainable. No one can credibly claim to be right all the time, even in authoritarian countries. The phrase coined by Al-Sisi only serves to polarise Egyptian society, and it certainly stirs up those whom the president describes as the “good people” against those labelled as “evil people”, leaving large numbers of naïve citizens believing that we are actually surrounded by evil forces—and many opportunists are happy to add fuel to the fire.
Mohammed Nosseir is a liberal politician in Egypt, and was a member of the Higher Committee, and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.