While I was working on my masters in International Development, I wrote a paper on how we can use social media to observe current social discourses on various themes, or what I specifically termed “grassroots developmental ethos”. In non-academic jargon, I was trying to see if it is possible to use social media to learn something of value about how Egyptians – especially young people – think about issues of change and development, and how their online interaction, from webblog posts to Facebook link shares to tweets can give telltale signs of the general direction of this ethos (which can in turn be useful knowledge for development practitioners, at least in theory).
The exact title of the paper now escapes me, and I can’t be bothered to look for it on the many USB drives in my desk drawers, but two videos that are currently making the rounds by Egyptians on Facebook, Twitter, forums and other social media channels made me remember this topic and rekindled some interest in it.
The first one is a clip from the Egyptian TV show “Al Ashira Masa’an” (which translates to “10 p.m.”), which is hosted by Mona El Shazly and garners a large and loyal viewership. In the clip, an Egyptian poet called Hesham El Gakh (of whom I have never heard before) performs an oration of one of his poems titled “Goha” (Goha is a well-known character from Egyptian folktales).
It’s difficult to translate the whole thing but what Hesham reads is basically a very pessimistic and gloomy “poem” in which he addresses his literary personification of Egypt and verbally lashes against what he sees as bad about the country (which is basically everything). If there is ever a poem to be described as “self-flagellating”, it is this one. Hisham delivers quiet a theatrical oration, with tears and everything. And you have to admit, he has a way with words and that Upper Egyptian accent lends the requisite air of authenticity to his pain (yes I am being a bit sarcastic here).
Now take that and contrast it with the second video making (admittedly less frequent) rounds between Egyptians online:
The video is titled “Ana Masry” (“I am Egyptian”) and posted on a Youtube channel called pmcegypt (what is pmcegypt? I don’t know). It simply presents various characters from Egyptian society (played by actors), who start by admitting to their bad habits but then say something about what is it about them (that is positive) that makes them “Egyptian”. The description with the video translates to “A video for those who love Egypt and still think that tomorrow will be better. Together we can change many things”.
What is interesting to my is not the content of the videos as much as it is the comments by different people – Egyptians – on both. What is even more interesting is the demographics of the people making those comments, or at least in the “sample” I observed on Facebook and Twitter where certain information about commenters is easily visible. Those are young, educated Egyptians: the demographic equivalent of the blood of this country. Any country. This is not a surprising observation, but rather an important one to note if anything if to be noted from all of this.
What does it say about the current social ailments of Egyptians, and what potential remedies are there for such ailments if we can actually define them?
Well, to give a very short answer, and insofar as anything can be gleaned from comments on online videos, the current social discourse in Egypt is more descriptive than prescriptive. People always tend to talk about how things are, not how it should be, and what should be done to make them be the way they should be. It is the path of least resistance in most social interactions in Egypt. The video by the “poet” above is nothing but a very lyrical version of the complaining spiel that lots of us hear from many Egyptians on a daily basis, from the taxi driver to your friends and family with graduate degrees.
The current collective social psyche in Egypt today is akin to a Jeep with its wheels spinning in sand: there is a lot going on but not much being achieved. It is all about the psychology of change. I’ll talk about the psychology of change and how it relates to the Egyptian mainstream social discourse in another post, but here is a thought for you to mentally chew on: change does not have to be political. In other words, start something or GTFO.
Speaking of Jeeps: They call this Egyptian Jeep, and I want one.