Well, I lived in Egypt about 25 years ago for three years as a student, and then I went back to visit twice. It is teeming with intelligent and industrious people, but this is my opinion why it is so stuck.
- There is virtually no middle class. Without a safe and secure middle class you just cannot have genuine political or social advancement. The extreme poor are busy surviving and the extreme wealthy are busy protecting their assets. In my mind, a large, stable middle class is the key to a modern society.
- The education system is rote-based. It’s not as bad as in some other countries, but still, it does not encourage much creative expression. The number of people whose thinking or analysis would just stop at a fixed point was astounding. People are told something, they believe it outright, and that’s that.
- People are reticent to challenge the status quo. Whether that is family customs, religious restrictions, social mores, they will bend over backwards to accommodate and please others even if it means remaining stuck and unhappy. On the one hand this is a nice quality, on the other it means that the word of backwards and stupid authority figures is rarely challenged.
- The misogyny. While Egyptian women are very present in public life – politics, business, academics, pop culture, etc – there is still of course the pervasive attitude that allows only for a narrow range of acceptable behaviour from a woman. You’ll find that the world over to varying degrees, of course, but it is always an impediment to moving forward. Women get stuck and men’s jerk behaviour is encouraged. Not good.
- Now we get to international impact. American and other influential powers will never allow a true democratic government in Egypt. That is why you had 30 years of the terrible Hosni Mubarak, and that is why Egyptians are today stuck with Sisi. Let’s face it, imperialists have always supported tyrants at the expense of democracy. This has ruined country after country, with effects that can last generations.
I have not been back to Egypt since the Arab Spring (and probably won’t go as I have developed a stupid fear of flying) but my sense is that while a lot of forward movement quickly deteriorated, the chaos of those years has been good for a renewal of energy and analysis. It is a beautiful country full of vibrant and good-hearted people. I wish it the best.