30 Jun The Difference Leadership Makes: Why I Stayed In Egypt During Covid-19
My iPhone pinged me with a text from the US State Department back in late March, warning me that I should return from abroad to the safety of the US during a growing pandemic.
I had been aware of this virus for months before Secretary Pompeo sent me this text. The President of Egypt, Abdel Al Fattah Al-Sisi learned, like the rest of the world, back in early January of the coming virus and directed his government, and the nation’s top health and science authorities to develop a plan for its imminent arrival in Egypt. Egypt had a plan, and at the time I received Pompeo’s warning, had already implemented its early phases.
Like the rest of the world, I have watched in utter dismay and wonder at the United States’ total lack of leadership in this pandemic for their own country’s citizens, let alone, for its impact on the virus’ containment globally. Literally, the US has been absent from this world health crisis, refusing to attend world health leadership meetings.
Like the rest of the world, I have watched in utter dismay and wonder at the United States’ elected leaders literally playing politics with peoples lives, both in health and economics. The US has somehow uniquely managed to make a virus into a divisive political issue, pitting state and local governments against each other for supplies and strategies, continually decimating the scientific community’s credibility when it is needed most, and even now, as the virus is growing strength again, making mask-wearers social pariahs.
In Egypt, there have been curfews continuously ratcheted down as the virus landed and spread. Containment at all cost is the mission – not power grabs, not politics.
Here, I have yet to walk into a store, (yes, ours are still open, but with limited hours, social distancing, and mandatory masks), and find that they are out of hand sanitizer, disinfectants, masks, gloves or the like. Egypt was prepared. Sisi’s government was prepared.
Nationally, there have been continuous government directives and communications about what is required of its citizens. Mask-wearing is national law for all in public places. Nationally, all group gatherings are outlawed, even attendance to weekly prayers at the mosques. National leaders from Sisi on down, are continuously and proudly seen wearing and promoting wearing of masks. Nationally, the different governorates (our version of large states), worked together to put the nation’s plan in place.
Yes, there have been some shortages of beds or healthcare providers at the peak of the virus in some areas, but, resources were diverted to these shortages quickly. In contrast though to the US, you won’t see people fighting to keep from wearing a mask, or denigrating others for doing so. In contrast, you won’t see the nation’s leaders leaving the local governments, and by extension, its people, to their own devices. In contrast, there is a plan, a national plan, a national voice of commitment to health and vitality for all and the economy.
Public streets, buildings, monuments, tourist sites, offices – all were disinfected as a national effort. Public spaces closed. Curfews put into place. National focus on required manufacturing. There has been continued coordination with world health leaders, with even a delegation to China to see firsthand what worked and what did not. All these things the Egyptian leadership did for the good of its people, ALL its people.
So as I look today at my home state of Indiana, population 6.7 million, as an example, with 42,000 of its population infected, compared to Egypt, population 98 million with less than one percent of the country infected, is it any wonder why I chose to stay here?
Is it any wonder that I chose to stay here, when I walk the streets and see the peoples of all walks of life, wearing masks without fear of reprisal or denigration? Is it any wonder that I chose to stay here, when I and all Egyptians know, exactly where the nation stands in its fight with the virus, and exactly what the nation is doing to halt it. There is a tremendous peace of mind in this.
Observing both countries’ response, to me, the difference has been in leadership. Leadership in a unified voice. Leadership in a proactive plan. Leadership in a collaboration with the people it serves. Leadership out of love for the community, versus leading with fear.
Today’s news in the US shows a rapid and strong surge of new infections as restrictions loosen nationwide. Lacking a unified national voice, I see local and state government officials try to regain control of the virus spread by instituting mandatory mask-wearing. And I see, again, because of the lack of any national leadership in this, people fighting the recommendations of health experts on these mandates.
It is not only the United States’ lack of national leadership and unified voice in this, but it is the purposeful misdirections, the discrediting of experts, and the pursuits of self-interests by those entrusted with national leadership versus the good of their people.
When I first came to Egypt a few years ago as a tourist, I found a true community spirit unlike any I have yet found in the world. I was reminded of the days gone by of the United States I grew up in, where neighbors helped neighbors and not just in national tragedies, but at all times. Once upon a time, Americans valued togetherness and basically, they had hope for life.
Today, sitting near the pyramids among these peoples I love so much, I am deeply saddened at what I see happening in the United States with its so-called leaders there, and how they are systematically destroying it.
The United States no longer holds the torch of hope for the world. Lady Liberty’s torch was not passed on to other nations to champion to strengthen the world, but it is almost as if it were just laid down, forgotten, a discarded toy of a bored toddler. The nation I left, “one nation, under God” has lost its way. The United States of “together we stand, divided we fall” is indeed divided, and indeed falling. Where is the “unity” of the “United” States?
The Chinese general, philosopher and author of the timeless insights of “The Art of War,” said that “in the midst of chaos, there is opportunity.” Thankfully, there is some value I see in the plight of America’s lack of leadership.
The unification of the people who once sat on the sidelines, are making the changes they want to see happen, signing up to vote, seeking elected office, joining organizations for change. There is the peoples’ national voice demanding equality. The unification of companies, cities, towns, and states unifying behind change for the climate, keeping promises the nation broke to itself and the world.
There is opportunity and hope for the United States in this chaos, and this hope for a better tomorrow is with the people, for the people, and by the people.
As the sun sets over the pyramids, on another day safe here in my new home, I wait with the rest of the world, hoping that the people of the United States reclaim their voices, reclaim their value of community, reclaim their value for what is good for all, and seize this opportunity for change for a better tomorrow for all.