COVID-19 on the Nile
One Egyptian's dream of a brave, new, post-coronavirus world

For decades, Egypt's successive governments have neglected to provide adequate support for science and culture. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the coronavirus crisis were to lead to a change of heart and policy, asks Khaled al-Khamissi

As elsewhere, the number of people infected by the coronavirus in Egypt is rising by the day. Although the number of cases in Egypt is relatively low when compared with some European countries, the assistant of our health minister has announced that hospitals with isolation wards are already operating at capacity.

In view of the tiny number of beds in intensive care units and the paltry budgets for health, scientific research, education and culture in Egypt, I have asked myself whether this pandemic will lead our politicians to review how public money is spent.

I have done so because the coronavirus is highlighting all that is wrong with the way we live: this crazy race to consume ever more, the undiminished, advancing destruction of our planet and the looming, human-made climate catastrophe. But can we really dream of a future where culture, the arts, education, research and philosophy form the foundations of our life? After all, that's all we'll have left in a few decades at the latest when artificial intelligence has taken over most areas of work.

What we really need

Sadly, as I write, I can hear the loud laughter that greets my naive optimism, my faith in the general awareness of politicians. And this laughter means that we will return to our old ways faster than we currently deem possible.

Factory producing protective face masks in Cairo (photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Xinhua)
Poorly prepared for the corona epidemic: "How worried we all are about the shortage of available medical resources. Yet the Egyptian government does not even spend the bare minimum on these needs and necessities. In the budget 2016/17, the Egyptian government spent less than two percent of the country's GNP on health, which corresponds to just €3 billion," Al-Khamissi complains

Yet over the past two months, we must have realised that 90 percent of what we buy and consume has no real meaning for our lives. At the same time, each and every one of us must now know what we really need to lead a healthy life, namely medical care, places of education and adequate supplies of food and clean water.

We must also have come to realise the value of culture in our lives. At the mention of the word culture, who among us – locked down inside our homes – does not think of the books we are currently reading, or the films, the plays, the songs, the podcasts or the dances that have brightened our lives while we have been stuck inside? And how worried are we all about the shortage of available medical resources? Yet the Egyptian government does not even spend the bare minimum on these needs and necessities. Let's consider this in more detail for a moment!

Meagre investment in education and health

The constitution of our country, which was passed in a referendum in 2014, stipulates minimum expenditure on health, education and scientific research. This obligation was born out of the fact that for decades, successive governments inadequately provided for these vital sectors.

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