Referendum number 1

For many years, a lot of countries waited for "statement number one," delivered by a spokesperson for military officers after they stage a coup. History shows that such statements are always rich in sweet words and promises that do not come true.

But with coups falling out of fashion, "statement number one" has been replaced by more modern mechanisms that meet the requirements of peaceful political contests where the transfer of power depends on elections.

In democratic states, "statement number one" is replaced with polls and referendums, where the people share their views and opinions on an issue. The results are then submitted to the decision-makers, pro- and anti-government powers, and used as guidelines for political action. These results are also given to analysts and researchers who study and analyze the present and the future of the country.

Despite relatively great advances in freedom of expression, we in Egypt are still living in a state lacking in democracy.

Yet, recent times have seen concrete progress towdemocracy. There have been questionnaires of huge importance, maybe most important of which was the one conducted by a team of researchers headed by the prominent sociologist Ahmed Zayed. This survey tackled the cultural frameworks that control the behavior of the Egyptian people.

The survey was the first of its kind in Egypt or the Middle East in terms of topic, magnitude, and methodology, as described by Minister of Administrative Development Ahmed Darwish, under whose auspices the poll was conducted as a part of the ministry’s Transparency and Integrity Committee. The results were alarming. It is enough to note that according to the findings, 64.3 per cent of Egyptians are wary of the future.

The survey we are about to discuss is a study of citizens’ attitudes towards transparency and corruption and their experiences with these issues. The study was conducted by a distinguished team from the public opinion program at the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies and led by Gamal Abdel Gawad. The results show what are Egyptians’ priorities.

Economic concerns are at the top of the list, followed by problems related to public utilities and services, such as transportation, housing and water. Issues of political reform and transparency are at the bottom of the list of concerns.

The data shows that after 30 years of the economy drifting toward the free market system, a large number of the people still prefer the economic model that depends on a wider role for the government. Sixty-one per cent of Egyptians prefer this kind of economy. That preference suggests either a failure in shifting toward the market economy or a failure by the ruling elite to promote its economic choices to the public. It could also be a combination of both.

The majority of Egyptians would like to keep the current level of openness to the outside world.

However, the conservative trend reappears with the responses given by citizens when asked which country could be considered a role model for Egypt. The largest sector of Egyptians chose Saudi Arabia.

"The Consultative Council for the Project on Integrity, Transparency, and Combating Corruption in the Field of Business" notes that democracy and political reform occupy a low rank among the problems Egypt faces, according to respondents. This supports the view that political awareness is low and that Egyptians are unable to see the link between poverty, unemployment and rising prices on the one hand and the policies adopted by the government on the other. People don’t realize that these problems can’t be resolved unless democracy and political reform are introduced so that people may choose their own rulers and allow public opinion to have a greater influence on government policies. Political parties are mainly responsible for that decline in political awareness.

The Consultative Council wants to look into why 38.7 per cent of respondents view Saudi Arabia as a role model. Is it because a considerable percentage of the sample has traveled to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf? Or because of the spread of religious extremism in the Egyptian society, imitating Saudi society? Or is it due to a deterioration of the prevalent culture in Egypt?

The majority of respondents, 89.5 per cent, said that the main reason for corruption in Egypt is low salaries. The poor performance of oversight bodies came second, with 89.3 per cent of respondents saying this was the reason behind corruption. Almost 85 per cent of the sample think the People’s Assembly does not exert enough effort to supervise the government. Seventy-five percent cited the lack of correct information as a reason. Contradictory legislation and jurisdictions were mentioned as a reason for corrupton by 74.1 per cent. Finally, the low level of political participation was cited as the cause of corruption by 71.4 per cent.

Regarding the participation of businessmen in public work, the results of the questionnaire showed that there is dissatisfaction with the presence of businessmen in the People’s Assembly and the government. Slightly more than 81 percent think that the presence of businessmen in the parliament increases corruption, and 82 percent believe that the appointment of businessmen as ministers causes a clash of interests. Sixty-two percent of respondents think that the appointment of businessmen as ministers doesn’t improve the performance of the government.

The survey includes important indicators that the political and economic elite need to consider. Obviously, the majority of Egyptians are calling for a greater role for the state in politics and economy. This is a message not only to the government but also to the private sector which should study the reasons why it repels people after more than 30 years of attempts to empower it.

The majority of Egyptians also reject the appointment of businessmen to ministerial or parliamentary positions, given the absence of mechanisms that regulate conflicts of interests or set definite limits between private and public money.

The results show that the demand for democracy is still low among the majority of Egyptians. Only one thousandth of the respondents called for democracy, which should be quite alarming for the elite.

All the talk about the leadership position of Egypt requires some reconsideration, especially because Egypt is no longer the role model in the eyes of the majority. In fact, instead, is seems it is Saudi Arabia that they look up to amid all the talk about Egypt’s leadership. Contemplate those results and attempt to reach correct conclusions so we may move at least one step forward.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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