Religious and Corrupt

Religious and Corrupt

Anyone who has visited Egypt knows the deeply religious nature of its people. Whether you have lived here for years or just stopped by to see the usual touristy stuff, one cannot deny the fact that the people of Egypt are becoming increasingly conservative. A wave of religiosity is spreading over the country. Of course, many Egyptians would argue the exact opposite; that Egypt is drifting away from religion and conservative values. They will cite the unmarried young couples that stroll along the Alexandria Corniche hand in hand or the girls wearing “inappropriate clothes” as proof of the decadence they see. But the very fact that they object to these couples or the girls whose “hijab is not right at all” is concrete proof of the wave of conservatism spreading over our country. In the 1970’s, before the Islamic movements gained strength in universities and communities, women in Egypt wore a lot less and it was accepted.

When you take a taxi and tell the driver your intended destination, the answer is usually “inshallah”- if God wills it. People answer the phone with the Islamic greeting “Assalam alaykum.” On Fridays, streets across the country are practically blocked with Muslims congregating to listen to the weekly sermon and pray. There are substantial and apparently increasing numbers of bearded men and women wearing the niqab. Walk along any street and you will observe, unsurprisingly, that most women are wearing the hijab. You will usually see people in public transportation reading miniature copies of the Qur’an; even after Ramadan, and I don’t remember a single occasion where I got into a taxi in the early morning and didn’t hear the Qur’an on the radio. In fact, a recent Gallup poll has found that Egypt is the world’s most religious country, where 100 percent of interviewees responded “Yes” to the question “Is religion an important part of your daily life?”

With this in mind, I conducted a small but interesting experiment from my laptop. Using a fake Facebook profile claiming to be a married woman in Egypt that was interested in cheating on her husband, I joined a few Egypt based groups for “whores looking for sex,” presumably created by men. On the groups, I introduced the non-existent character and provided a link to a blog that has been inactive and ignored by visitors since June. This blog was not a creation of mine, but an Egyptian “woman” recording her sexual encounters. The blog was written in Arabic, ensuring only Arabic speakers would be interested. Then I observed the Facebook profile and flag counter.

The results were interesting indeed. Within three days, the fake woman had 347 friends, more than most Facebook users, and the blog had over a thousand visitors. Most visitors to the blog were of course from Arab countries, but the country topping the list was Egypt, which was home to 32.8 percent of the visitors followed by Saudi Arabia at 17.8 percent. The two countries most associated with religiosity. This is, of course, in addition to the tens of inbox messages from men leaving their phone numbers or confessing to wanting to cheat on their wives.

One is tempted to feel a very strong sense of hypocrisy in daily Egyptian life. Many married men would have no problem having a woman for a casual friend, but would be less than thrilled at the prospect of their wives having male friends. The hypocrisy extends beyond the male chauvinistic attitude in this patriarchal society. At any government office, an employee will has no problem keeping citizens waiting for half an hour as he diligently performs not only all obligatory prayers, but optional ones too. This same employee will willingly accept a small “sweetener” to perform his job faster, while he has a Qur’an on his desk or Prophetic hadiths hung up on the wall. I have seen female employees at Alexandria University decide to wear the niqab, but have no qualms about arriving late for work or leaving early. Despite having the highest number of religious people in the world, Egypt was ranked number 115 out of 180 countries in a 2008 survey by Transparency International that studied the extent of corruption in various countries across the globe; number 1 being the least corrupt and 180 at the opposite end of the scale. This is interesting, considering the fact that religion preaches honesty and trust as basic values.

Khalid Ibrahim, a dentistry student at Alexandria University thinks, “people are sincerely trying to be religious with all the rituals they perform and they believe that they are religious. I think they are hypocrites, but they don’t know it.”

Ghada Abulsheour, a fine arts student at Alexandria University does not see it as hypocrisy. She thinks “people are bored and have nothing to fill their time with, so they fill it with religion. It’s a lot easier to pretend to be a religious expert than it is to be an expert in any science.”

Here lies the conundrum. It is not surprising to find people hiding their true selves behind a fake religious exterior, but in Egypt people know and believe they are religious, which is why it is so difficult to convince them to change their ways, because they know they are right.