A group of my friends went camping in the desert. They chose a spot in the middle of nowhere and set up camp. They pulled out a few benches and arranged them in a square, for everyone to sit together. With night fall, they started laying down their sleeping bags in the middle of the square. As each one got into his bag, the square got too crowded and they started trying to arrange the layout in order to fit everybody. After half an hour of attempting to solve this issue geometrically, they realized that they were – in fact – in the middle of the desert and that all they needed to do was move the benches to make more space.
This story has always fascinated me. Those free-spirited, young and intelligent minds, who were in the middle of a desert that stretched hundreds of kilometers in every direction, created a square and their minds were locked inside that shape. They limited their options by limiting their creativity and they lost the big picture by focusing on the details.
In many ways I feel the same is happening to us in Egypt now. We are spending too much effort trying to fit everyone within the square when in fact the dimensions of the square were set by us (and - by the way - I don't know if it should even be a square). We're being forced to choose from a list of options that is only limited by the creativity (or lack thereof) of a group of old and decaying bastards. We're wrecking our brains trying to figure out who to vote for and what our constitution should look like, when in fact these are processes that were based on the wrong set of parameters. There is no denying that a healthy structure is a fantastic start, but even a sound constitution is worthless in the absence of a continuous interest by the people in how their lives are being run. Democracy becomes a curse when the society is uninvolved and unaware.
We were surprised (not to say disappointed) by the results of our elections. In many cases we blamed politicians for abusing the good-will of the people and for manipulating their choices with cheap religious and emotional messages. When in fact the main problem remains that our people are unaware of the choices they have and their votes were limited to the options presented to them. We are fighting the wrong battles. The constitution will be shit, at best it will be a mindless document made "pour la forme"; that much I can promise you. But then again this is not the real issue. Even if we get the best people to write the most modern, comprehensive and inclusive constitution, without a society that believes in those values and is willing to protect them, it will not be even worth the paper it's printed on. Our choice of president matters very little if we as a society are not there to monitor his/her performance and put our feet down when need to. Without the awareness and the continuous involvement of the people, change is not going to happen.
It's no secret that we live in a society where the majority is uneducated and unexposed. Even if people are aware of what is going on in the country they remain unaware of the alternatives that were not presented to them; those alternatives that politicians fight so hard to keep away from their voters. Our real battle is not with a healthy constitution or a good president, our real battle is to empower communities. Make them aware of their rights and more importantly their dreams and their capabilities. But this is not a battle against only those politicians who don't want things to change but also against a long heritage of skewed up values, morals and principals that came to characterize our society. The resistance from the people themselves might prove to be more difficult than that of the politicians. However, that is the real fight after all. Everything else is secondary.
I have no idea how to do that nor who should do it. I just know that we're spending our time focusing on the wrong battle.