I have always wondered why certain individuals wouldn’t spare or sacrifice anything, absolutely anything, in order to become politicians or, even better, to become “Honourable People’s Delegates”, whether Deputies in the “People’s Council” or Senators at “AsShoura Council” .
Maturing, observing, travelling and reading allowed me to figure out the answer. Ever since the Armenian politician “Noubar Pacha” founded the first Egyptian Parliament and formulated the regulatory voting system for a “Parliamentary Monarchy”, the tradition became to vote a representative according to certain criterion related to his integrity, education, family, wealth, relations, and most of all his ability to serve his district and solve its problems; that is why lots of surnames remained in the house for generations, because their electorate couldn’t do other than nominate and vote for the well trusted name and its clear and honest reputation.
The good part is that these elected did serve their voters to the maximum: they assisted a father in difficulty to ensure a scholarship for his son or daughter, they helped a young graduate to acquire a bank loan to start a private business, they assisted a poor sick citizen to enjoy free medical treatment, they would guarantee the free elementary education for a needy family, and so on they continue to do such services to establish a consistent “electorate confidence” and ensure their second and third mandates.
But most of all they were tagged “well-deserving” for their electorate vote because of their charitable contributions within their constituencies: the building and equipping a school, the construction of a mosque, or the founding of tailoring and dressmaking schools for poor young girls; in addition because they were transparently above any doubt or suspicion.
Ever since the fifties, and throughout the sixties and the seventies, of last century; the traditional image of the “Respectable and Honest Public Servant” mutated into the hollow and insignificant character of the sheer “meddler” that this new breed of “Honourables” have been performing, in complete contradiction to being “transparently above any doubt or suspicion”.
Otherwise why a candidate aspiring to “represent” the people would spend tens of millions for the campaign, changing his or her ideological banner at will and upon request, and worst of all would even bribe his electorate “buying” votes, just to end up running through the corridors of the parliament or under its Dome to collect signatures from Ministers on applications for private businesses against his sure and favourable vote for any law or decree presented by the government, and we end up with that infinite multitude of tailor made laws favouring an overpowering “Conflict of Interests” that poisoned our political and social life, and degraded our daily survival into a miserably unproductive and corrupt short-sighted opportunist individualism.
I am truly concerned, even preoccupied, in two folds: the first related to the voices claiming few acts of well known politicians buying votes, the second is relative to the dangerous consequences emerging from that immoral act of cheating that demolishes a fundamental constitutional right: “The Vote”.
Let us analyse that aspect to identify the two sides of the act, and realise how the ongoing repetition of such criminal behaviour, over decades, has rendered it an acceptable ongoing normality! We know that it takes two to finalise any commercial agreement, in this case they are:
Ø The Cheater, who in the same time is the buyer, who thinks that he is cleverer and more suitable to benefit from politics as a business, thus cancelling the true aspect of it as a “Public Service” paid in full by the “voters” who are at the same time the “Contributors”, and
Ø The Cheated, who is the seller. Like any hired hand will remain deprived from any negotiating privilege, and maintain the status of the dependant to the order, will and wish of the buyer though believing that he cut a perfect deal though forgetting, or not realising, that he’s being cheated for nothing and that he willingly dropped his rights to the garbage bin just like an old shoe.
In such unscrupulous transaction of the lowest “Criminal Association” type, I would take the liberty to fantasise the consolidated unwritten agreement between the two parties to read something like following imaginative text:
On that day of …………, in the district of …………; the two parties hereafter defined agreed and signed for the following agreement.
· Part I: Mr./Mrs./Ms. ………….., candidate for the aforementioned district to the parliament, holder of ID/NN card………….., and residing at …………………., hereafter nominated “The Buyer”, and
· Part II: Mr./Mrs./Ms………….., resident of the said district and capable voter bearer of ID/NN card …………, hereafter nominated “The Seller”.
Both parties, being able and in total control of their mental capabilities agreed to the following:
1. The buyer agreed to pay the seller the amount of L.E. 50.- (only fifty Egyptian pounds) to the seller in time and date of the present agreement in cash bank note bills.
2. The Seller promises by the present reception of that said amount to vote for the buyer in the coming parliamentary elections due on the day of ………….. in the month of …………… for the year of………. .
3. The seller hereby declares his complete understanding to the outcome of this sale, herein defined as: he will never dare to request from the buyer, once in parliament and for the length of that mandate, modern education or a seat for his son at school or in university, a bed in hospital, a paved street in the district, a dignifying secure employment contract, a decent retirement pension package, protection against arbitrary dismissal, competent medical care, reasonable housing policies, healthy public water supply, contained and controlled prices for energy services like gas and electricity, guaranteeing that essential services as food supply, water supply, energy supply, education, health remain publicly owned services, transparency in all acts of representation, control the executive actions in the service of the district and the country, protecting the constitutional labour laws, ensure that the law and order forces are not in conflict and in the service of the people…etc.
4. In short the seller agrees to sell his entire citizenship to the buyer once the said amount subject of that agreement is settled.
5. The buyer reserves the right to ask special services from the seller, each in accordance with a special rate whenever required, and the seller agrees to evaluate each case aside whenever asked to do so.
6. Agreed upon and simultaneously exchanged the traditional agreement’s hands shake on the present’s time and date.
Well that is only a fantasy of mine, nevertheless the practice remains the same. Once one agrees to sell his vote for money, or any kind of special service or privilege, he automatically denies and completely abandons his rights: to control his delegate’s performance for the good of the community, or to demand anything whatsoever from that person. He got paid didn’t he? What else would he pretend or require?
Last August I wrote a series of articles, that you’ll find posted on my blog, entitled “The Vote”, I will quote hereunder the first of the series that I would entitle “Dignity”.
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Five weeks ago, I bagged my high hopes together with some doubts along with some books and presents, and shadowed by my wife, we flew to Egypt for the first time after the Revolution to see my daughters, my grand-children, my sister and my nephews. But the real purpose was to experience first hand the new winds which are blowing over my awakened nation. In a first glance, Egypt seemed different than the one I left behind several decades ago.. Apart from the long trail of buildings and appalling useless and ugly structures, standing big and tall like monuments giving tribute to the commanding “Culture” fruit of poverty, ignorance and corruption which made Egypt what it became over the past 59 years.. We saw a lot more happy smiling faces, serene looks, calmer voices and much lesser noises.. Could the absence of uniforms from the streets be the cause? I can’t tell for sure..
As the days went by, and as we got in contact with many fellow Egyptians, the hidden doubt lying underneath the smiles came to surface and kept me company until Cairo International Airport from where I flew back to where I came from.. To uncertainty.
Laila, my sister’s hardworking “analphabet” maid and cook, whose devotion and continuous sacrifices would make of her a typical “Hassan El Imam’s” melodrama lead character: keeping an exhausting job for a middle class household and making ends meet for her own family of two boys (of course unemployed) and three girls all by herself, just because she’s divorced and abandoned for a younger and “richer” widow (richer so to say).
When Laila saw the protests processions on January 25th, she walked along asking the young demonstrators about what is going on and why. When she realized that they demanded the end of a régime and the change of a system, she simply turned back and went home.. Not because she was afraid, but rather because it just wasn’t what she expected and hoped for: “Hesham Talaat pays twenty pounds a month, a kilo of deboned meat and a woolen blanket every feast for our votes..”, she said innocently in the most sincere and crystal honesty, “..and they go to demonstrate for what?? It would have been better if someone promised a minimum guaranteed retirement pension to my likes.. Something like six or seven hundred pounds..” (a little more than a hundred dollars..nfa) “..a months to help us keep the blood of our faces and not to turn us into beggars when the time will come and we can’t work anymore.. Don’t you think?”
Obviously Laila has a point.. And we soon discovered how useless it is arguing with her or even trying to make her question the origin of that being’s wealth. It would definitely be a waste of energy to ponder with her over the demerits of selling one’s vote for whatever personal benefits, because simply she will not absorb the destructive consequences over the collectivity from such an unfair trade: once you compromise your vote for money, you limit your relation with your deputy or senator only to occasional gifts and crumbs.. You will never be leveled to ask for a decent place in the bus, or a clean bed in hospital with professional nursing, or adequate education for your children and so on.. You just freely and willingly give away your only tool of control over well governance, thus opening the doors wide open for corruption and other socio-economic chronic deceases, which will consume several generations age to heal.. If ever it will be left to heal.
However, while she was talking to us with such enthusiasm, I couldn’t help recalling the figure of another woman I encountered in my youth some forty years ago, in Alexandria during those unforgettable glorious and magnificent high-school days.
As I was performing with my jazz band in one of the nominated clubs of the city till late way after midnight, and while going to look for a taxi to share back home, she was always there.. The suntanned face and décolleté, left partially to be seen from underneath a closely fit “galabeya”, the “Taheya Karyoka” style, the seducing smile on her round lips holding firm a lit cigarette, and blowing the smoke slowly in the night’s cool air by the seaside; wrapped up all together made her unforgettable trade mark..
That beautiful young woman, was always there.. Selling her flowers, jasmines and roses.. Cracking a joke here and a sarcastic out loud cheerful laugh there, and so forth until there is no one left to buy her flowers.. Only then she disappears into the darkness of the night going to God knows where.
She was always there.. Year after year.. In summer like in winter.. Sweating under the burning August sun just like soaking wet underneath the January rain.. By days in front of schools and universities urging us students to “..buy a flower for the girl to conquer her heart” as how she used to say, and by nights in front of exclusive clubs like the International Seamen’s , the Rotary, the Yacht or the Automobile, and later at night in front of the various sea-side restaurants and cabarets.. Her smile, the laugh, the cigarette, but most of all the dignity of a single woman who gently accepts a customers’ compliments, but never concedes or allows anything more.
I kept seeing her till I left the country.. Well, you will not imagine how glad I was, and even nostalgically happy, to see her two days ago in front of my old school near my home.. Narguis.. Yes, now I remember.. Her name is Narguis!! Shades of that old smile are still there.. But the cigarette disappeared, as the years and sea winds bent her back, broken her lungs and weakened her legs, yet though she still walks the streets selling the few flowers her weary hands could collect from the public gardens.. Dignity.
Will Laila end up like that?
Will Egypt end up like that?
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Pass On The Word.