Mafish Mushkila


Our group with the Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party (center) at its headquarters in Cairo

Our group with the Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party (center) at its headquarters in Cairo

Today we met with the Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The current president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, is a member of this party, and this party holds the majority of seats in the Egyptian Parliament.  It was definitely an interesting and educational experience, but at the same time it was difficult to reconcile the things the Secretary was saying and things I had heard from my Egyptian friends. I understand speaking diplomatically or being political, but this was more than that. For example:

The percentage of unemployment in Egypt is currently a staggering 13.2 percent. To put that in context, the USA currently has a percentage of 7.5, and our highest percentage during the recession was 9.1. This means that more than 1 out of every 10 citizens of eligible working age in Egypt are without a job. When a member of my group asked the Secretary General what his party planned to do to combat this unemployment problem, a problem which lead to the January 25th revolution, he denied the existence of a problem, saying that jobs were available, but that people were too picky and couldn’t imagine themselves in the existing job opportunities or even too lazy. I have met many young Egyptian college graduates who are looking for jobs and cannot find them. I have seen dozens of people on the streets because they cannot find a job. According to these people, there are no jobs, period. They don’t care where they work or how much as long as they have money to pay the rent and feed themselves and their families.

Egypt is unique in that it has an indigenous population of Christians, the Copts. I worked with several Coptic Christians last summer when I participated in the DukeEngage Program. Last summer was also the time of the elections, and many Copts were very scared about their futures in Egypt. As our professor pointed out in class yesterday: although the Copts are now a minority, they were the original inhabitants of this country, and it must be strange to have another religion, culture, and race come in and take over your land.  We asked the Secretary General of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party what provisions were going to be put in place in the new government to ensure the rights and freedoms of the Coptic community as well as minority sects of Islam. His answer: there is no problem. There is no sectarian tension in Egypt, no religious tension between the Copts and Muslims, and no racial tensions.

The questions went on in a similar fashion for about an hour. In Egypt there is the saying “Mafish Mushkila” which essentially means no problem, or there is no problem.  While it can sometimes be used as happy go lucky, no worries outlook on life, it can also be used to deny the existence of a problem. It was frustrating to hear that same phrase used in this situation when talking about the needs and concerns of the Egyptian people, the people we have spent a lot of time talking to and interviewing for our class.  In this case saying Mafish Mushkila just won’t cut it. Egypt had another president who denied the problems about which the people complained, and he got overthrown a few years ago.

-Stephanie Egeler

5 Responses to “Mafish Mushkila”

  1. by Mbaye

    This is a good posting and thanks for sharing it. But since he is a public figure who volunteered to meet with the DAW group, we should put this in a context. Dr. Khalid Hanafi was simultaneously speaking in Arabic and English and that is why some of the meanings were lost in translation.

    He did not mean ‘laziness’ as a cause of unemployment among Egyptians. He meant ‘inability in imagining existing job opportunities in the country’ (the need to match between people’s personal skills and existing as well as imagined job opportunities).

    This is a valid economic argument that unemployment might not be due to lack of job opportunities out there, but in one’s limited ability to create and/or imagine beyond the formal and informal job markets.


  2. by Pamela

    WOW! What a marvelous opportunity this was for you and your classmates! It is very good of Egypt’s Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party to volunteer to meet with the Duke in the Arab World (DAW) students, and I am sure you all showed him the honor and respect a man of his position deserves. It appears that you have had the fortune of visiting with and conversing with quite a cross-section of Egyptian culture during your past two visits there. Does this included people of various age groups? Perhaps for the govt official, he sees a bigger picture with other deeper issues than what the average people on the streets have felt at liberty to discuss with you. He may be trying to assure you (and himself) that “everything will be fine.” It is a common theme in many countries (including USA): people often say that elected officials are out of touch with the needs and desires of ordinary citizens. . . I think I detect some emotion lurking around this article. Good. Step wisely.

  3. by Steve

    Spain’s unemployment is at about 25%. Similar arguments are made to explain this: “laziness” of the workforce (too many siestas) or not wanting to take jobs that feel beneath people. Unemployment is not something unique to Egypt, and people blame the government everywhere. I agree with the previous comments. Read those again.

  4. by kitt ericson

    I think the previous replies are very accurate. Even in the USA unemployment is a big problem–in some situations it may be “easier” to accept government help than to pursue a minimum wage job. The 7.5% unemployment figure is an average–minority unemployment figures rise to around 13-14%. Employment opportunities are present, but in some cases and for a variety of reasons, those jobs are not filled–. A workforce has to want to work at whatever will buy the bread, with the anticipation that a better job is on the horizon.

  5. by Jon

    One of the problems is that governments really have very little power to create jobs, unless they are government jobs or projects. They do, however, have the power to give welfare, and so that is often the default. The government can encourage job creation by helping provide an environment of freedom and reasonable taxes and regulations, as well as appropriate basic education. This, however, takes time, and does not guarantee that private industry will respond with new jobs, if people are not confident in the future.

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