This blog is dedicated to Egypt .... home I adore and to all sincere Egyptians who are looking forwards to live in free democratic secular nation
كل زوار الموقع مدعوون الى نشر آراءهم و تعليقاتهم
Thursday, July 08, 2010
An Egyptian, and an Arab
Egypt is an Arab country. At least it's assumed to be. This may seem rather obvious, given that its official name is the Arab Republic of Egypt, it is a member of the Arab League and its people speak Arabic. To an outsider, Egypt is in fact an Arab country.
The reality on the ground, though, is slightly different. Many Egyptians prefer to call themselves Egyptians and some shun the Arab label completely.
The most adamant "Egyptian, not Arab" camp are the Christian Copts. In a region that is overwhelmingly Muslim, the terms Arab and Muslim have become almost synonymous, despite the presence of large numbers of Christians in several countries.
Most of Egypt's Copts maintain that they are the purest bloodline to have descended from the ancient Egyptians. As one Coptic friend tells me: "I maintain that I'm not an Arab. I'm an Egyptian and of pharaonic descent. The only thing that ties me to the Arabs is the Arabic language."
Studies on modern Egyptian DNA support the view that neither Egyptian Muslims nor Copts are Arab. All the invasions that Egypt has experienced over millennia, including the Arab invasion, do not seem to account for more than 15% of modern Egyptians' ancestry.
So Egyptians are not genetically Arabs, but they may be so culturally and linguistically. This was once true, especially during the post-revolution years when Nasser's dreams of pan-Arabism were very much alive. Back then, Egypt was so Arab that "Egypt" was dropped in favour of the "United Arab Republic".
Today, though, the Arab identity of Egypt has begun to subside among some Egyptian Muslims too. This is particularly evident among the younger generation. In everyday conversation, the term "Arabs" is used to refer to inhabitants of the Gulf states.
Many Egyptians maintain a distinct Egyptian identity, and a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism can be noticed even in casual conversation. Even those in the poorest of circumstances cannot help feeling a sense of superiority over their neighbours across the Red Sea.
"We have thousands of years of history, culture and civilisation. They have nothing but oil barrels. Were it not for oil, they'd still be living in tents," is a commonly expressed sentiment– although it doesn't stop Egyptians from temporarily migrating to the Gulf in search of a better life. And, judging from thousands of forum posts I've read on the internet, the feelings of disdain are mutual. Many Egyptians also prefer to dissociate themselves from the term "Arab" because they feel it has become equated with terrorism following 9/11.
Egyptian anti-Arab sentiments are only further intensified by a sense of frustration and anger at the poor treatment some Egyptian migrant workers receive in the Gulf states at the hands of their "Arab brothers". Many Egyptians I know who have worked in neighbouring countries always felt they were disliked and their presence resented. This isn't confined to the Gulf countries, either. An Egyptian friend of mine who grew up in Libya feels the same way.
Whether real or imagined, these feelings have only accelerated a sense of animosity to the "Arab brothers" among Egyptians, fuelling a resurgence in Egyptian nationalism while the media and government maintain the official position that we're all Arab brothers. The school history curriculum focuses disproportionately on Islamic and Arab history, with little or no focus on Christian Egypt. This doesn't do justice to Egypt's rich history, and produces Egyptians who know very little about the periods between pharaonic Egypt and the arrival of the Arabs.
The anti-Arab dialogue reached its peak last November, during what came to be known as the Egypt-Algeria football feud, after Algeria beat Egypt in a playoff match in Sudan, thereby destroying Egypt's World Cup aspirations.
A media war ensued, with each country ridiculing and attacking each other's symbols. Many Egyptians even expressed a desire to break all diplomatic ties with Algeria.
In retrospect, a football match was a trivial, pathetic excuse for all the media hype which has since died down, but the effects have lingered. Egyptians set up Facebook groups called "I'm Egyptian, not Arab" – a position until recently associated mainly with Copts. Another Facebook campaign called "I'm Egyptian, who are you?" sought to instil a long-lost sense of pride in being Egyptian first and foremost.
As the official media continues to maintain the official line that we're all Arab brothers, a massive online campaign is raging through the blogosphere to assert Egypt's Egyptian, pharaonic, non-Arab identity. The most vocal of these has been the blogger who calls himself Hassan El Helali, with the rather peculiar slogan "Not Arab, not Muslim, not Christian. Egypt is Egyptian". His blog, "Hegabs, nekabs and other trash", is dedicated to what he sees as the progressive Saudisation of Egypt, which started in the 1970s and 1980s with the return of migrant workers from the Gulf.
While the desire to return to a pure pharaonic identity may be a very romantic idea, it would seem rather futile to try to turn back the clock. Egypt has been speaking Arabic for centuries and will continue to share its borders with surrounding Arab countries. Rather, Egyptians need to take pride in their Arabic heritage, since it happens to be a component of Egyptian heritage. Egyptian Arabic has become a language in its own right, instantly recognisable in any other Arab state. The only Arabic-writing novelist to win a Nobel prize for literature was an Egyptian. Egyptians must see their Arabic heritage as a source of pride, even if they don't see themselves as Arabs.