A Time to Build

At the moment my church has a great preaching series on Ecclesiastes, one of my favourite books in the Bible. One of the most famous parts of Ecclesiastes is the 3rd chapter, which opens with: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens..”

It sprang to mind as I watched events unfold in Egypt on the news and on Twitter. It’s as if since the 2011 Revolution that the genie is out of the bottle and Egyptians have found their voice and cannot go back to being silenced. It’s glorious. Freedom can’t be contained once it has been tasted. Watching Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Church in the UK and someone who I greatly admire, on Newsnight, I was struck by his assessment of Morsi’s failure. Besides the government’s economic failures and its slim democratic mandate:

“There was no attempt to bring the Egyptian people together after the allegations of people like the Muslim Brotherhood and even Christians that over the past decades there was a mentality of divide and conquer. So, rather than using this golden opportunity to bring people together and to create a cohesive state and to create a state of national identity, there was a greater breakdown. And so we find, towards the end…it was no longer even Christians [vs] Muslim, it was one agenda against everyone else.”

Morsi didn’t build Egypt. Even though many were disappointed with Muslim Brotherhood’s win in the elections, which is partly because after 80 years in opposition they were the only party prepared to challenge for the vote, Morsi squandered an opportunity to build a unified nation. Perhaps that wasn’t his vision in the first place. Certainly, he seemed more concerned with amassing power to his party. However, whatever you make of the “popular coup” that removed him, it’s a stunning lesson in nation building.

People need vision. In so many countries across Africa, including my own, Morsi’s mistakes – economic incompetence, power games and divide and rule – are being replicated, although in less stark terms. It’s not good enough. Even here in Britain, the economic mismangement is bad enough, but there is a distinct lack of vision from any party. The government is pandering to Britain’s lowest common denominator while frantically spinning off state responsibilities to the voluntary sector, the Church, the private sector. It’s not a bad idea in and of itself to partner with organisations who are happy to help those who are struggling in society, but we collectively have a responsibility to care for them, yes, even through (fair) taxes. There has to be a middle ground.

Across the world – Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Spain – people are on the streets. Our obsession with Egypt’s democratic elections can obscure our view of events on the ground: 22 million people signed a petition against Morsi’s rule. That’s over a quarter of the population. Over 17 million marched across the country. Their voices count too. Yes, the democratic process is important but we also need to talk about the fact that one vote every four years isn’t enough to tick the democratic box. Governments need to respond to people. Over 1 million marched against the Iraq War in this country; they were brushed aside. And we’ve seen a mood of anti-politics take hold and the rise of visionless, self-centered, paranoid politics in the form of UKIP rise up.

We have to build. We need leaders with vision. We need governments that respond to people’s concerns, that understand that the decisions they take in closed rooms at the behest of corporate interests (who don’t pay their fair share of tax) affect the lives of ordinary people both at home and abroad. There is a sense of broken contracts. I don’t have the answers, by any means, but with Mandela on his deathbed I feel quite keenly that we don’t have enough statesmen around – long-term thinkers who understand that they are serving the people, not ruling.

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