If you are a scientifically renowned Egyptian citizen harbouring great ambitions for your country with a desire to see it progress faster, please keep your knowledge and ambitions to yourself. The government is not interested in your contribution; Egypt has always been governed by an insentient state that will never be capable of taking notice of scientifically motivated citizens. The mediocrity of Egyptian governments is now officially established.
It is evident that the consecutive Egyptian cabinets of the past few years, especially after the 25 January 2011 Revolution, have been underperforming momentously. Nevertheless, when rumours of a cabinet reshuffle broke out, I began to advocate for maintaining the existing cabinet – because I knew that the new cabinet would be worse than the current one. I reasoned that, since our successive governments invariably function on a “trial and error” basis; we would be better offer with the current mediocre cabinet (that might learn from its accumulative errors) than with a new one that will start the trial and error process from scratch.
Is it really a difficult task, in a country with a population of over 90 million inhabitants, to find a couple dozen qualified ministers? Of course it isn’t. Nonetheless, we are often stuck with large numbers of mediocre ministers – which raises the question of why it was necessary to reshuffle the cabinet? Has government mediocrity become the norm? Why have Egyptians started to turn down ministerial positions, previously the ultimate dream of thousands of politicians and government officials?
Well, nothing is really haphazard in Egyptian politics. Cabinet appointments are designed to further the goal of maintaining a powerful state and marginalising ministerial roles, thus empowering the first entity (the state) to fully deploy the second one. Citizens with accumulated scientific knowledge, who have developed self-assured, independent personalities, will not play the role of ‘yes men’; they are therefore ignored from day one.
The message concerning candidates declining ministerial post offers was deliberately publicised so that Egyptians would value the mediocre ministers who were kind enough to accept their respective posts. The Egyptian State has been working on spoiling the entire political environment by creating a fragile political structure with the aim of depoliticising Egyptians. A direct result of these efforts is that sensible and knowledgeable citizens tend to refrain from accepting government positions.
The recent cabinet reshuffle has prompted many Egyptians to raise a number of valid questions such as: Why did the state appoint a minister of education who misspells common Arabic words? Why was the unremarkable minister of tourism in a previous cabinet reassigned to the same post? Why did the state appoint a minister with strong affiliations to the Mubarak regime that was toppled by a revolution that is recognised by the Egyptian constitution? Why were certain ministers who had been informally accused of corruption kept on in their positions?
To better understand the formation of the cabinet, it is necessary to point out that the Egyptian state is not really bothered with the above questions, nor does it feel obliged to present justifications to its citizens. The president has not given his ministers a mandate that citizens could hold them accountable for – because he himself was elected without having committed to a clear mandate or programme.
Mubarak, who was an autocratic president, was more careful about appointing professional ministers. Some of them were engaged in corruption obviously, but their professional qualifications were indisputable. This policy was accompanied with the drawing of a fake vision designed to give citizens a glimpse of hope for the future. President Al-Sisi on the other hand is not really eager either to appoint qualified ministers or to offer hope. The president is focused solely on appointing operational ministers who will obey his orders. The outcome is that we repeatedly end up with mediocrity.
Government officials often argue that they are doing their best under the current circumstances – an excuse that has been overused since Mubarak’s era wherein the blame is laid on what is defined in Egypt as the “system”, not on the poor performance of officials. I assume that our ministers were aware of the “system” prior to accepting their responsibilities. Moreover, their ministerial positions should enable them to modernise the system rather than make it the excuse for their underperformance.
Egypt’s government bureaucracy has been infamous for centuries and, over time, citizens have learnt how to overcome bureaucratic roadblocks to meet their needs. Mubarak used to empower his ministers to surmount the obstacles of government bureaucracy – even if this required bending the rule of law. Today, the combination of lack of vision, bureaucracy and a mediocre cabinet is transforming the government into a thick quicksand from which Egyptians should not expect too much.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee, and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.