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Singing our own Praises. Or our Self-Praising Phobia 

 
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ByTarek Heggy



The wise man�s mind will even in bliss cause him misery,
While the fool in abject misery will a happy man be.
It is futile to separate from his ignorance
He who does not repent,
Or to address him who lacks sagacity.

Al-Motannaby

This chapter will address another defect of the Arab mind-set, one that has come to manifest itself conspicuously in the discourse of the majority of our compatriots. I am talking of the tendency to indulge in excessive self-praise and the aberrant social values this defect has spawned in our everyday lives. Nowhere is this tendency to sing our own praises more evident than in the mass media which, day in, day out, feed our self-infatuation by tirelessly extolling our virtues and glorifying our achievements. The same pattern is repeated at the individual level, where boastfulness and self-promotion are fast becoming the norm.
This has not always been the case. If we compare our mass media today with the newspapers and magazines that appeared in Egypt half a century ago, we find that this feature, so much a part of our lives at present, is a recent phenomenon. And if we compare our mass media with those in other parts of the world, more particularly in the developed countries, we find that we are unique when it comes to an overweening sense of self-satisfaction expressed in a constant torrent of self-praise.
In an effort to trace the origins of this phenomenon, I personally went through hundreds of back issues of Egyptian newspapers and magazines that appeared in the �forties and found them to be completely devoid of the least hint of empty self-praise. The phenomenon only began to appear, in a diffident sort of way, some twenty-five years ago, reaching its present brazen proportions in the last twenty years, with a noticeable leap in the last decade.
It is virtually impossible to read a newspaper or magazine today without coming across one or more articles and/or news items lauding our achievements, superiority and virtues. Often these paeans of praise are attributed to a foreign source, as though this imbues them with greater value.
Although much of the material published in this respect inspires more incredulity than credibility, the phenomenon shows no signs of abating, and we continue to indulge an apparently insatiable need for self-aggrandizement by loudly and incessantly proclaiming how wonderful we are.
For example, not a day goes by without one of the following or similar statements appearing in our papers:
* The international community praises Egypt�s economic reforms.
* The World Bank praises the Egyptian model of economic development.
* According to this or that university, the Egyptian economy is strong and stands on solid grounds.
* According to such and such a centre for economic studies, the Egyptian economy will never be exposed to an economic crisis like the one that shook the Asian tigers.
* UNESCO decides to implement the Egyptian experiment in this or that area at the global level.
What does this mean? And why do we not read similar statements in any French, German, English, Japanese or American newspaper? How to explain our constant harping on the same theme? The explanation lies, to my mind, in a desire to escape from a harsh reality into a fantasy world we have created to fulfill a psychological need for a reality more to our liking. Escapism is by definition a negative reaction, a passive acceptance of the status quo and a tacit admission of inability to change it. 
The only way we can change the status quo and overcome our many problems is to adopt a more positive and constructive approach to the reality we are living. This entails admitting that we are beset by huge economic and social problems, that we are, unfortunately, (and, it must be said, unnecessarily), a Third World country, and that these problems are a direct result of the way public life in Egypt was administered in the century and a half since the death of Mohamed Ali in 1849.
It is only when we abandon the pattern of excessive self-praise, which we all know to be empty of any real substance, and start admitting and facing up to our problems that we can begin to achieve progress at all levels.
Of course, stemming the torrent of self-praise in which we are now drowning and diverting it in the opposite direction of constructive self-criticism is a far from easy undertaking. Its success depends on our ability to sow the seeds of positive values in young minds through educational curricula. But these will only yield fruit in the long term. In the short term, we must begin from the top of the pyramid, not its base. Once we admit to ourselves how bad the situation really is, the next logical step is to ask why we have reached such a sorry state of affairs. 
The answer lies in the ineptitude of some of the leaderships which ran our public affairs in the middle of the previous century. It is important here to emphasize that evaluating the performance of public officials in today�s world is not based on their adoption of specific ideologies. Efficient administration depends, rather, on the availability of an �executive cadre� at the summit of society with a pragmatic approach to problem solving, more concerned with implementing the results of experiments that proved to be successful than in getting bogged down in futile ideological debates that only hamper progress and perpetuate the status quo.
The phenomenon of excessive self-praise is organically linked to another set of negative values that have pervaded our lives in the last few decades. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the traumatic events of June 5, 1967, have had the greatest impact. The most important of these negative values are:
* A discrepancy between words and deeds has gradually transformed us from a society attuned to reality to one more comfortable with empty rhetoric. This phenomenon is generalized in a very prominent way throughout the region to which we belong. It goes back to distant dates and deeply-entrenched cultural factors. Of all the nations of the world, we sing more loudly and frequently of our history, our past glories and our superiority to others. If we compare our attitude with that of a society like Japan, for example, we find that although the Japanese are extremely proud of their nation and heritage, they do not constantly express their pride in grandiloquent language, oratory and slogans.
* Judgements are formed in the logic of love or hate. This leads to the prevalence of subjectivity rather than objectivity and ultimately to the formation of judgements from a purely personal perspective.

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