Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Duty & the Beast


This post is not political, but is inspired by political events in Egypt. It is about conflict of values and ethics, and how being critical means you can’t stop questioning…

In case you don’t know, Egypt is having its (10th? 15th?) election since Mubarak was ousted in 2011, this one a much anticipated presidential race (not much of a “race” if you ask me) and turn out has been low. Part of this is definitely protest by brotherhood and supporters, part of it is the more liberal front who are non-brotherhood but anti-military, part is laziness,part is hot weather, and part (probably not a small part) is basically: “Sisi will win anyway, why bother?”, and of course part is fed up of election shams with no real change (steps backward rather than forward).

I have been watching facebook and overhearing people all over, as well as having direct conversations with some people. Many people in my social circle are Sisi supporters. Most colleagues at work who are academics or academically oriented are non-brotherhood anti-military (like me) for various reasons (and usually labelled traitors or some such thing by our own families, no joke).

Basically, there seems to be an overwhelming discourse by people who voted and want Sisi to win that “everyone must go down and vote” or they are not patriotic. I wrote back in 2011 that I disliked immensely this whole “more patriotic than thou” attitude because:
A. We have no right to judge someone else’s patriotism (and we def have no right to suggest patriotism rests on a vote for a particular person!)
B. Patriotism is a tricky thing that has many faces and dimensions, not all of them common among us, but most importantly:
C. Patriotism is not always the most important value to uphold

And the last point is the key point of my post. Just because many people feel going down to vote is a patriotic duty, does not mean it is the most important duty, or that voting is the most important thing for Egypt’s future just because some people “said so”. Long-time democracies know this. Democracy is not a ballot box (and come to think of it, who made democracy the most important value to uphold anyway? I know, it sounds crazy, but think about it…)

Three types of posts on facebook inspired me (as well as a workshop on values I was looking at recently):

One, by a friend who is asking if it’s ok to vote for a particular candidate (guess who) to “please” her mom and mom-in-law. In Islam, treating parents well is of utmost importance, unless they ask you to worship other gods other than the one God (Allah). So she was not kidding. My response to her was: they shouldn’t know whom you vote for in the first place, but if you’re considering voting for him, it should matter where you perceive him on the spectrum of benevolent dictator to cold-hearted-murderer or even worse. These are among the range of the (minority) views against Sisi. If you see him as a “beast” then there is no question of “duty’ taking over, right?

Other facebook statuses expressed eloquently the writer’s views on the aggressions of Sisi, and why they were either not voting for him, or not voting at all.

The last type of post is a particular one where it mimics a 2-way convo (can’t remember details but something like this):

– i am voting for Sisi
– but he is military! (There is a derogatory term for it in Arabic that makes it sound like mercenary)
– ok, will vote for Hamdeen
– but he is with brotherhood
– ok i wont vote
– but that is passivity
– ok, i will migrate and leave Egypt
– but that is… [you get the picture]

And I think we need to learn to respect people’s difficulty making some decisions sometimes. Some may not want to vote as a way to take a stand. Some may be lazy. Some have given up. But some truly do not know what to do.

And even though critical thinking is often defined with how it helps you decide what to believe or do, I think the most critical person, always a skeptic, has trouble taking important decisions because they know there are other sides to the story, and cannot commit fully, even when they do commit. It is similar to how the most critical thinker will always be questioning religious dogma with their brain even if the non-thinking part of their being has a spiritual faith. Because life is not black and white.

Heck, even black and white each have different shades within them! And not all of those are grey!

Sometimes, people will stand for social justice before they will stand for democracy. Sometimes (always!?) social justice is more important than stability. Sometimes social justice beats patriotic duty, or redefines patriotic duty from the norm: some people are not voting because the value of human life was more important for them than the supposed elusive stability others seek. Some people have an empathetic vision that anyone could be the target of such injustice and lack of freedom, and they’re enduring the wrath of others to fight for this belief. They’ve committed to something (although I strongly believe that social justice is not “clear” – we do not always know necessarily where social justice lies, it is a temporal perception based on limited information and very relativist in many cases, esp in politics).

I leave you with this quote from one of my professor’s email signatures, quoting Benjamin Franklin:

”Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.”

And that’s a conflict of values and goals Egypt is going through, in much more complexity.


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