It's often said that perception is more influential than fact, or even reality, so what does this mean for Egypt's future?
How inconvenient this unpleasant sight washing up on our shores rearing the ugly head that is we
If only it could not float so near so I could resume what is me
I care not to see the blind spot of my conscience nor my complicity
I care only for my radius, reality is proximity.
When the #thisisegypt campaign kicked off portraying Egypt in all its glory, the architects of the campaign were surprised to see the hashtag backlash, with images of poverty, garbage and abuse being used to accompany the slogan instead of beaches, resorts and delicious molokheya. Those who hijacked the hashtag were accused of being negative, tarnishing Egypt's image and deliberately trying to sabotage the tourism industry.
In the name of positivity or even patriotism, there was a tacit demand to manufacture a digestible image. As a result, the mere fact of presenting a contrasting view of reality was violently rejected. It’s not what was presented was necessarily wrong, it is more that what was presented was offensive. If only one part of a narrative can be handled - the part that makes a country, a religion or a people look good – then what matters to us is not the truth but the image that we’d like to preserve.
While those people suppress criticism of Egypt through writing #blacklivesmatter as their Sofragi serves them coffee, crises like poverty, pollution, population growth, traffic and Mortada Mansour still continue to fester.
There is a fine line between positivity and denial. If we only give credence to whatever suits our vantage point or allegiances, we end up manufacturing an image of reality that is distorted at best, dangerous at worst. Because if the image is appealing, reality becomes insignificant, reality is somehow even expected to automatically adapt to the projected wallpaper of our delusions. I know people who believe to this day that the Muslim Brotherhood were behind the Battle of the Camel, others who think the revolution can be reduced to one big foreign conspiracy. One of the clearest symptoms of the positivity crowd is the inability to see or the refusal to face what is rotten inside the herd.
So whenever facts are pointed out or critiques offered, they are met with ad hominem arguments such as “if you don’t like it here, leave the country”, “you are not Egyptian, you have no right to talk” or deflections - “Did you see what they are doing in Europe, Israel and the States?” But while those people suppress criticism of Egypt through writing #blacklivesmatter as their Sofragi serves them coffee, crises like poverty, pollution, population growth, traffic and Mortada Mansour still continue to fester. Choosing to ignore the beggar while walking down the street does not remove the beggar from the street.
At some point denial has become so widespread that those who create these marketing campaigns are oblivious to the irony and absurdity that their formulations can generate.
It is often said that perception is more influential than fact, or even reality, in shaping our future. So if our perceptions are only based on denial packaged as positivity, what happens to our future? It becomes theatre.
When the Youth conference was held in Sharm el Sheikh in November, it was also accompanied by a hashtag and a promotional video. On the surface, it seemed to be a great initiative, a much needed platform to address pressing issues, a place where, as stated in the video, “the conversation begins.”
If they trigger a backlash, it has to be because some people are negative and want to bring the country down, not because the schism between an articulated image and a lived reality is wide enough to house Donald Trump’s ego.
But before beginning any conversation, one has to be aware about how the conversation is framed and in which borders the subjects are restricted. Only those who are in denial can take seriously a conference whose hasthag is #weneedtotalk against a backdrop of repressed dissent, or listen to a phrase like “if you are afraid to express your opinion, we need to talk” without having the urge to go cuddle with Orwell in his grave.
At some point denial has become so widespread that those who create these marketing campaigns are oblivious to the irony and absurdity that their formulations can generate. If they trigger a backlash, it has to be because some people are negative and want to bring the country down, not because the schism between an articulated image and a lived reality is wide enough to house Donald Trump’s ego.
Some people who attended the conference were well aware of the larger political context but they did so to gain visibility and/or expand their networking opportunities. Playing the game was a worthy sacrifice, a much needed boost to their careerist ambitions before retreating to their bubble, that safe space where reality can be reduced to a micro design of peace. But is there really such a place?
By separating our micro reality from others’, we miss the bigger picture and cease to understand that our realities are not only interconnected but that they feed off each other.
Before the revolution, Zamalek thought of itself as a little Europe shielded from the rest of the country. After the revolution, all of the things that were affecting the nation suddenly started to drip into the island: the litter, the chaos, the parking problem etc. To most denizens of Zamalek, these were new disasters brought on by the revolution, but to those who are more aware of the wider landscape, Zamalek, the atom, simply joined the molecule of Egypt. The problems were always there but since they were out of our field of range, they didn’t exist - or worse - they didn't matter.
If something only becomes palpable when it is visible or affects us directly, we risk of creating a culture of indifference wherein only our reality matters. By separating our micro reality from others’, we miss the bigger picture and cease to understand that our realities are not only interconnected but that they feed off each other.
We can pack our bags to Katameya and October and find a new universe where we can be indifferent; heck we can even find a new capital to start from scratch. But what we leave behind will still be there, dangling over our collective conscience.
It was surreal to witness vigilante groups such as the Zamalek Guardians trying to control the incoming fire, be it scaring off residents of Bulaq and Imbaba, wiping graffiti off the walls or fighting to preserve Zamalek from the latest symbol of decadence: a metro. The bubble that protected the privileged few was suddenly burst open and all the ugliness began creeping in.
When this happens, we can pack our bags to Katameya and October and find a new universe where we can be indifferent; heck we can even find a new capital to start from scratch. But what we leave behind will still be there, dangling over our collective conscience.
No matter how hard we try to escape our problems, they will still be there, lurking in the shadows, gaining weight. And the more these problems grow, the more our refuge will shrink.
At some point, reality will eventually infiltrate our bubble and catch up with us.
True cynicism lies not in highlighting the ugly truth but in burying it.
In the end, the negative exists to create a real positive. Without that balance, true evolution cannot be attained. Negativity and Positivity have to interact, not collide: we need the negative person to post #thisisegypt next to a dumpster as much as we need his positive counterpart to do something about it.
Those who hijacked the tourism campaign were in a way more patriotic than those who easily absorbed the rosy picture depicted and scolded anyone who offered a reality check. The same way individuals learn more from their bad experiences, countries too can only evolve when they embrace the negative, not when they deny reality or escape it.
Growth can only arise from the abyss.