Reflecting Allowed

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.

12 thoughts on “Duty & the Beast

  1. I couldn’t like this post (some formatting glitch) so just want to say I like it. Sometimes democracy appears to offer a lot of choice (numbers of candidates) but also little choice, in terms of acceptable choices.
    Thinking of you all.

    1. Hi Frances, yes, I agree! Last presidential election we had something like 10 candidates or something in the first round, but it was no choice at all. This time it’s a more mature-looking 2, but still no choice at all! Thanks for taking the time to comment …

  2. Great post Maha. We are having political “turmoil” and elections here and though they are nowhere as serious as in Egypt, the rhetoric is similar. For the first time in my whole life I didn’t vote in the last election here. My whole life I’ve been on the “wrong side” of things, often discouraged but always FOR some elusive potential–for instance there’s a party in Alberta who’s politics I don’t like but the leader is an extremely intelligent person who may be dangerous but seems unable to lie about her intentions. For that reason, foolish or not, I sense I’d have a “voice” with her in power while all the rest seem to speak from a mind supplied to them that speaks in party slogans and are unapproachable.

    In the previous election I voted against her, thinking I had a choice in another who turned out to be a false hope and had to quit for incompetence. And now the idea of choosing has me thinking that the whole thing is an illusion of control and I need to stop voting and go back to actual participation. In many ways, voting seems the least effective form of participation that still has a sense of activity. At the same time it acts as proof of interest through a gesture that indicates a symbolic faith it a system that runs without out anyway.

    It’s not that most people don’t believe in the concept of voting but it seems to have become a substitute for doing something positive for society. Democracy should be more than selecting others to do things for you–it should include you.

    1. Wow, Scott, exactly! “Stop voting and go back to actual participation” and “democracy should be more than selecting others to do things for you – it should include you” – wow, you’ve hit the nail on the head! I will quote you on fb! I assume ur ok with it since this is more public than fb 😉

  3. That’s a great post, I always say that a good education makes a great difference, unfortunately in Egypt we have graduates with little or no intellect which is responsible for the vicious circle that we are experiencing and most probably will still encounter over the next decades.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Hany. Agree that ignorance is an issue, but unfortunately the educated are making the same mistakes of judging others, right? Even the open minded…

  4. Great post. I totally agree with your reflection on whether or not democracy is the most important value. In my religion (Unitarian Universalism), one of our covenants is to conduct our congregation according to democratic principles. Personally, I often struggle with this – as democracy is not one thing – there is no one democratic process – some may be better than others, but there is no such thing as perfect democracy. I do not believe it is always best to use democratic decision making process (e.g. sometimes consensus makes more sense – but also sometimes not everyone should have a vote – and unfortunately, stupid people get to vote too). One of things I learned as a child about my civic duties what that I should only vote if I was making an informed vote. If I don’t know about any of the candidates then it would be irresponsible of me to go and tick of a random name on election day. It sounds like many of your friends are struggling with how to make an informed decision – but it should be encouraging that they are at least trying to be informed!

    1. Thanks, Rebecca 🙂 so many things I like in your comment, esp the diff forms of democracy and informed voting (and insight into unitarian universalism, i have a couple of friends who follow the same). Btw the prob in Egypt is that most ppl who vote are not educated nor informed, and another group allow the corrupt media to play with their heads. So only the most critical ppl struggle

  5. Agree with Rebecca on informed choices being vital. We have people in political office here locally and nationally who don’t seem to understand their roles as representatives of everyone–even those who voted “against” them. This is understandable at the electoral stage but since everyone is ultimately voting for a government there’s a time when the candidates need to change their mindset. It makes sense to me that voters too could have this immature conception of representation being for their interests only.

    Long time established democracies fall into this narrow interest trap just like new democracies because it’s very easy to understand how your interests are the best choice in government for everyone. Unfortunately, the fragility of self-interest over an awareness of general well-being makes for short lived governance.

    I sense Maha that your friends are voting for a more settled and much less partisan future that includes a feeling of unity for all Egyptians? That’s difficult to make work at first when people still feel protected by their divisions.

    1. Well and also, Scott, it’s an illusion of unity when the person they’re electing is the one that not only helped oust the brotherhood president (someone who governed poorly and catered only to “his” people) but also while he was head of military/armed forces, continued to almost “rid” Egypt of brotherhood followers, made their group illegal (again, as they used to be pre2011), etc. Unity? What unity? Stability? Most actions perpetuate more violence by extremist factions of the brotherhood… I don’t know what people thought they were doing, and I am in no way the best informed (am almost totally uninformed) but i have a brain and it tells me this ain’t good…

  6. I see this is a frustrating subject for you Maha. Watching people act without thought, their actions seem so wasteful, unnecessary and not even really an expression of themselves but acting out someone elses poor judgement or anger. And what remains? More of the same.

    You come from a family that values responsible action based on clear thinking and watching people react like plants to the sun, turns things upside down. As a teacher (in my mind anyway) the idea of manipulation, duty, habit, etc moving people to act as if these thoughtless pressures were more than mere stimulants upsets me. Don’t these things destroy a person’s power to learn by weighing things? Block up their mind and make them a kind of robot?

    In “Public Relations, Activism, and Social Change” Kirstin Demetrious mentions “unity” as a powerful tool to persuade people that it is their duty to agree on what others have supposedly decided. It’s like reification in a way that resolves doubt by making it easier to believe in a system of twisted logic. When I was fired everyone told me I should have “known” not to challenge the college president as if that was a condition of the universe rather than something that could be altered by refusing to believe that authority has this right. It’s sad to watch people partake of the comfort “knowing the rules” like this. It feels like a waste of being a human to make oneself so small. And it hurts.

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