I read with great sadness – but unfortunately not much surprise – Professor Adel Iskander’s deeply misguided article, “A Nation Derailed,” published on 28 January 2013 on Jadaliyya.
Iskander’s attempt to play politics with the tragic deaths of nineteen deceased train accident victims is, well, not the classiest of moves. In the article, Iskander makes a very simplistic, and all too played out three-pronged argument: First, the Mohamed Morsi administration is failing miserably; second, the Egyptian government’s failure is a fundamental cause of the train accident, other accidents occurring recently in Egypt, and the horrendous conditions that characterize the country’s transportation and healthcare industries; and third, since what is unfolding in Egypt now is merely a continuation of the January 25 Revolution, the protesting Egyptian opposition is justified in its anger and utter disregard for law and order.
Iskander says the following about the 15 January 2013 Badrashin train accident: “Not only was the country’s ailing railway system on display, its healthcare institutions, laid to waste by the double-punch of a decade of systematic neglect and worsening mismanagement under the Morsi government, were in full view” (my emphasis).
The lack of astuteness here is stunning. Here, we are expected to believe that Morsi’s “mismanagement” is a primary culprit in the railway and healthcare problems. Iskander wants readers to believe that Morsi — who inherited a ravaged country about six months before the Badrashin tragedy, and who is in charge of a nation whose infrastructure was destroyed by thirty-years of Mubarak rule and eighteen months of post-revolution turbulence, which has for decades been mired in what political economists call an “inefficiency crisis,” whose economy is on life support, where acute poverty and illiteracy are rampant, and where the education, health, and transportation sectors are prehistoric — should have been able, in six months, to make improvements that would prevent tragic accidents and significantly raise healthcare standards. This would have been quite a challenge for Superman, and especially for Morsi, a man who was essentially forced to fill his inner circle with political adversaries, and who has so far had to battle the army, judiciary, Israel, and an incompetent opposition bent on overthrowing a democratically elected leader – all without a permanent government or a full set of democratic institutions.
The fact that Iskander and his ilk complain about the railway system — pretending that someone else might have been able to come up with a miraculous way (and hundreds of millions of dollars) to fix (or make significant improvements in) the railway system in six months — is indicative of either a lack of knowledge or a lack of sincerity on the part of many in the Egyptian opposition, which, it appears, would rather see Morsi fail (and Egypt collapse) than witness a successful Muslim Brotherhood reign. An American friend of mine – who has an MA in Industrial Engineering from a top tier university in the United States – was flabbergasted over the recent infrastructure and construction-related complaints emanating from the Egyptian opposition. He told me that before announced construction projects get off the ground, the pre-implementation stage — which includes bidding, design, and financial close — can take between one and three years, if not longer. In my former state of Minnesota, the local government spent more than three years to repair and reconstruct one stretch of highway. Also in Minnesota, a light rail corridor line stretching just twelve miles took several years to plan and construct. It is things like this that many uninformed people in the Egyptian opposition do not know or understand, and which educated people like Iskander may be attempting to conceal. Egypt’s rebuilding project is going to take many years. It will take even longer if people in the opposition continue to call for disruptive, destructive protests that paralyze large parts of the country.
Iskander’s article also features rants against the emergency services summoned to the Badrashin wreck and Egypt’s unsanitary hospitals. Here again, he conveniently ties the failures to Morsi.
Iskander knows that Egypt’s emergency apparatus is almost nonexistent. In fact, it is a running joke in Egyptian society that injured and sick persons should not wait for the ambulance, which will either show up exceedingly late or not show up at all. Of course, none of this is Morsi’s doing. This unfortunate reality is the product of decades of inefficient, corrupt government.
It is similarly well known among Egyptians that Egypt’s hospitals are, overall and by and large, horrible. Early last year, I spent an evening in the emergency room at Qasr Al-Aini Hospital – considered average by Egyptian standards – and had to cut my visit short (in spite of medical advice to the contrary) because the hospital was in such disarray and so unsanitary. The staff was not qualified, the bathrooms were filthy (the lone men’s toilet in the Emergency Room did not have a seat, was filled with filth – I will spare you the details – and there was no toilet tissue or soap), and the overall setup was something out of a horror film. Many of the Badrashin injured were likely sent into similar conditions – because that is all there is in some parts of Egypt.
The Morsi administration should be held to account for the plans it puts in place to get Egypt on the right path to a better economy, adequate healthcare, emergency services, and modern transportation, among other things. To blame him for accidents and poor healthcare now – less than seven months into his rule and before any projects could have possibly gotten off the ground – is childish and irresponsible.
Iskander, in an effort to legitimate the “Black Bloc” and large pockets of violent protesters, and in a desperate attempt to equate today’s thugs with the January 25 revolutionaries, describes today’s “myriad forms of civil disobedience” – which include the burning of government buildings and security vehicles, the blocking off of the underground and bridges, and violence against police – in favorable tone. Iskander should know better. There is a big difference between attempting to oust a thirty-year dictator and attempting to overthrow an elected president. One could say the distinction is like the difference between night and day, or put differently, like the difference between revolution and sedition.
Many in Egypt’s opposition do not yet understand that mistakes made by an elected president — even big ones — are not to be treated the same way as mistakes made under dictatorship. Mubarak was a thirty-year dictator who ruled people against their will. Any attempt to overthrow him was by definition legitimate, provided it did not involve violence or destruction. A legitimately elected leader, particularly one near the beginning of his rule, cannot be overthrown, and any attempt to do so is, by legal definition, seditious.
Although I think Morsi needs to be given more time (and a complete set of state institutions) before anything close to an absolute evaluation of his tenure is possible, I have taken issue with a number of his policies and positions, and he has at times moved too slowly on critical issues. Although increased efficiency during this stage would never have been able to prevent every possible tragedy or tangibly improve shattered institutions and processes, there is no question that Egypt needs to get moving on the right path more quickly. You might someday find me supporting a voting campaign against Morsi’s reelection. You will not find me, however, calling for, or encouraging in any way, the overthrow of a democratically elected leader.