French President Emmanuel Macron is leading the push for diplomacy on Ukraine. Photo: AFP

For many years, I perceived the world as divided into science-oriented, developed nations driven by intellect and rationality, and developing nations led by insensible, shallow, emotionally driven people. Then I realized that I was wrong and shifted to literacy as the decisive factor, regardless of citizens’ origins. Finally, I concluded that the world is split into sensible and ignorant citizens – irrespective of their credentials or residency.

Nevertheless, sensibility is a purely subjective issue. Citizens whom I consider sensible might be perceived by others as completely brainless. People naturally form opinions based on their motivational mindset, which functions according to, and is influenced by, multiple factors such as culture, education, political dynamics and religion. The weight and impact of each of these factors differs from one citizen to the next, eventually shaping their respective minds – a process that doesn’t follow any particular scientific method. 

However, knowledge is an essential condition for anyone claiming to be a sensible citizen. Meanwhile, ignorant citizens’ views are often shaped by inspirational narratives that outweigh any kind of knowledge they may have acquired – fanciful stories tend to influence ignorant citizens much faster and more convincingly.

Living in a democratic nation where mainstream citizens are incapable of digesting politics casts doubt upon the entire democratic mechanism. Politically ignorant citizens can easily bring to power one of their ill-informed fellows who will eventually strengthen like-minded people – and may thus alter the political dynamics of the nation.

Moreover, citizens in any democratic nation tend to vote for candidates who indulge them with promises to advance their domestic issues. After coming to power, these politicians are perfectly entitled to switch gears, applying completely different policies. Unfortunately, ignorant followers, who are often an easy target for manipulation, advance politicians whose true goal is only to prolong their tenure in power.

Democracy is often complemented by liberalism to achieve the status of “liberal democracy.” Liberalism is a proposition that is designed to offer minority citizens personal political rights and immunize them against being stressed by majority rule – fair enough. Nevertheless, liberalism doesn’t provide minority citizens with any powers that they can use to sway ignorant majority rule. Sensible minority citizens may sustain their personal freedom, but they are obliged to conform to the ruling notions of the ignorant majority.

Some argue that popularity is the essential component of democracy that legitimizes the rule of politicians in power – a completely invalid argument. Emmanuel Macron won his citizens’ popular votes and acceded to the French presidency in 2017. However, starting a few months after his inauguration up until the present time, his disapproval rate has mostly been higher than his approval rate. Yet Macron’s declining popularity has not affected his presidential tenure. 

One of the key elements of Western democracy is political debate – a mechanism that relies on politicians’ ability to manipulate their followers, irrespective of substance. For instance, a very tiny fraction of the world’s citizens can comprehend the features and the benefits of Airbus versus Boeing aircraft, yet politicians are able to create fascinating discussions, influencing the vast majority of citizens on this complicated topic of which they know very little. 

Nowadays, most political debate narratives are conducted by partisan scholars or politicians who uphold their parties’ stances rather than expressing their personal views. Meanwhile, conventional media, traditionally dominated by experts, are rapidly losing their audiences to unsubstantiated bloggers who rely mostly on their storytelling skills. 

In fact, social media have made politics more complicated by enabling millions of users, regardless of qualifications, to express their opinions and influence their peers. Communication channels are expanding, but more often than not, they work to misinform people instead of educating them. People tend to be solely consumed by the news provided by their favorite media outlets that validate their views further, and consequently, they can’t differentiate between real news and fake news.

In any industry, credentials are required before one can offer any kind of service; candidates must acquire in-depth knowledge about their chosen field, pass many exams, become certified and eventually be recognized by the industry’s consumers. Unlicensed physicians, for example, are not allowed to practice based on their personal popularity rating. Even casual, unaccredited laborers such as plumbers or carpenters still need customers’ recognition to sustain their businesses.

Politics, the industry that is meant to rule nations, is the only one where the players don’t need any kind of accreditation or experience. Rulers and parliamentarians can successfully climb the political ladder by capitalizing on their personal skills (such as being good communicators and knowing how to mobilize their followers) without anyone questioning their political knowledge. In fact, politicians are often talented in manipulating substance to serve their interests. 

Labeling citizens as ignorant and eventually preventing them from casting their ballots would result in civil strife. However, demanding – as in any other industry – that politicians meet certain requirements prior to running in an election would result in having a pool of substantiated candidates from which citizens, regardless of their political comprehension level, may choose.

Such a restriction would immunize ordinary citizens against being misled by deficient politicians and would further reinforce the liberal democracy mechanism. 

Mohammed Nosseir

Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician who advocates political participation and economic freedom. Nosseir was member of the higher committee at the Democratic Front Party from 2007 to 2012, followed by being a member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptian Party until 2013.