- Life Style
Unaccountable power in Egypt is diffuse; so must be the resistance to it. The resistance should continue and spread, wide and deep. Otherwise, only the façade of the political system will become prettier, at best.
Egyptians have begun to strip bare the pyramids of unaccountable power. They are finding them in every size, from those like the great Giza pyramids to the miniature ones sold in tourist shops. They are unearthing them in formal and informal institutions across the land--in the Presidential Palace, Ministry of Interior, police station, government TV establishment, local council, textile factory, and railway authority.
These pyramids have been reproduced in the same form, like so many Russian dolls, although not as charming. An overlord, who claims to know all and controls all, is throned on the apex. Below and around him hover the clients, who flatter him and tell him what he likes to hear. In the lower levels, the rest of the people toil and bear the burden.
The bosses are supposed to be public servants performing public service. But they behave like private persons feasting on illegitimate privileges and rewards; they take commissions on contracts, buy public land cheap and sell it dear, issue licenses for imports and exports to friends and relatives, and when need be, skim directly from their ministry’s or department’s budget.
The more worldly among them speak in the grandiloquent, neo-liberal rhetoric of globalization, free market, and foreign investment. They discuss internet connectivity and search engines and construct “intelligent villages.”
The overlords and their families have bank accounts in foreign nations, and own private jets and villas in choice resorts and city neighborhoods. They ride in the back seats of dark mercedeses and BMWs, driven by patient chauffeurs, who spend their life waiting, and become resigned to waiting. Their consumption reaches far beyond the conspicuous.
Instead of utilizing the machinery of the state to develop the country, the overlords employed it to service their own preditory instincts. Meanwhile, the IMF, World Bank and other guardians of the pyramid of the world economy praised Egypt’s economic reforms and underlined its high rates of growth, even if the country ranked high on lists of countries with the most corruption.
The overlords’ underlings hail from every walk of life--high level employees, university professors, security officers, businessmen, journalists, workers, writers, judges, doctors, artists, customs officers, land owners, and managers. A basic, unwritten rule governs the function of this patron-client system; a client may not point a finger at his benefactor who knows, like Osiris, the dark side of the subordinate, the size of his kirsh, or belly, and the weight of his heart.
The rest of the citizens watched, understood, cursed, and felt helpless. But now that the main man with the biggest pyramid of all has stepped down and pulled down with him a few others, the disenfranchised have found an opportunity to air their grievances. They want the bosses, flatterers, and clients to be held accountable. They want to form their own independent unions and have a taste of the pie they have coveted for so long.
Some say people should just return to work and focus on changing the political system at the top, and things will take care of themselves. They fear the possibility of chaos or a power vaccum. But the dispossessed know better. If they stop now, they might have to wait interminably. The overlords will change hats, subvert revolutionary vocabulary, and attempt to preserve their fiefdoms. They will act once more as power vacuums that suck out the life from politics, unions and professional associations, and education and health sectors as the state remains the captive of business and security men.
The pyramids of unaccountable power in Egypt not only permeate institutions; they are equally (in)visible in social interaction, everyday speech and body language. For example, the bulk of the lower classes still address the privileged by Ottoman titles signifying deference, such as bey and pasha, despite the Ottoman empire’s demise almost a century ago and the banning of the fez, the mark of the pasha, after the 1952 revolution. But for the poor and the oppressed, the red and black-tassled fez still towers high on the heads of the powerful. Such social pyramids will likely prove more stubborn, but their erosion may not be possible in the shadow of unaccountable pyramids of power.
The poor and powerless are not seeking revenge; they are only clamoring for justice. They wish to work and live not within suffocating gray pyramids, but in a modern world of transparent institutions. Their quest must be applauded.