Polarisation in Egypt's political scene is at an unprecedented level with a clear weakening of the state control. For a few days in Cairo, I could easily feel how things changed from what they were a couple of months ago. In a healthy environment this may mean dynamism in society, but in Egypt's case it meant decadence of the society as a whole.

The gap between the elite — business leaders involved in politics, rights activists and influential media people — and ordinary Egyptians is widening to the extent that you virtually have two ‘Egypts'.

The ordinary one is indifferent to all that you read and hear about Egypt — even the hot issue of the next president, if the incumbent did not run for next year's election. That seems out of the question, as Hosni Mubarak's son Jamal Mubarak would succeed him. The ordinary people do not care much about who governs them.

One of the funny things I heard is that people won't be enthusiastic to have a new ruler who would start accumulating wealth and rather prefer an already wealthy one. Some of the elite would list out the virtues of Jamal, starting with "He speaks very good English". Yet he became familiar with ordinary people after visiting several villages around the country and mixing with them.

But the English-speaking skill was the core of another exchange among the elite about the prerequisites for the next president. Mustafa Al Fiqi, head of parliament's Committee on Foreign Relations and a prominent figure from the ruling National Democratic Party, told the daily Al Masry Al Youm: "Unfortunately, I do not think someone could become president of Egypt if there were an American veto against him, or even an Israeli objection".

Veteran writer Mohammad Hassanein Heikal commented on the statement in a letter to the paper and a debate started among some writers and columnists.

Again, people in the streets of Cairo did not care much, as if choosing their president is none of their business.

They do not pay much attention to these debates, and a majority of them believe that foreign powers are the main players in their affairs — So what?! Interestingly, a song by an unknown person is being circulated by emails and on mobile phones reflecting this defeatist mood of accepting the accession of Jamal as destiny.


Almost everything in the country is deteriorating, starting with the fine traits Egyptians were renowned for. Even their sense of humour is almost lost; Egyptians are no longer diluting their problems with political jokes. No new jokes are heard in Cairo cafes and people are just recycling old ones until they lose taste and no longer make anyone laugh.

Not to mention the striking symptom of disillusion when it comes to the system and its laws. People pride themselves on improvising ways to circumvent rules and break the law. Though the appearance of security, police and other services deceives the eye that one is in a tightly-controlled state, the fact is that the state is getting weaker.

To rally people around the regime, false patriotism is sought by fabricating enemies: from Algeria for a football match to Hamas for failing to deal with international activists delivering aid to the suffering Palestinians through Egypt.

The government mobilised the elite to attack the Al Jazeera satellite channel because it bought the rights to broadcast the African Cup tournament.

Football is popular in the region, and media — official and private — can inflame public mood to rally around the regime which is doing its best to please them but ‘enemies' like Al Jazeera and maverick British MP George Galloway are denying them entertainment and peace of mind.

Another sign of deterioration that might go unnoticed is the language. The common talk is increasingly becoming vulgar and the government with its media and business elite is in the lead.

People think this is ‘modernisation' as they watch Hollywood movies replete with swear words and bad language and assume all Americans talk this way. The language of debate in the People's Assembly (parliament) and in the cabinet is changing. MPs curse and swear, even throw shoes at each other and ministers are no different.

Such symptoms betray a sense of insecurity and weakness, and it's not clear if this is because people lost faith or that those leading change think this is the best way to prepare for a new young leader. Whether the country is weakened due to stagnation, and change will revive it, or is weakened to suit the new leaders has yet to be known.

Dr Ahmad Mustafa is a London-based Arab writer.