What is the Egyptian identity?

Egypt's Renaissance, 1919-28 by Egyptian sculptorMahmoud Mokhtar (1891-1934) Cairo, Egypt

Egypt's Renaissance, 1919-28 by Egyptian sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar (1891-1934) Cairo, Egypt

We analyse the Egyptian Identity.

The Egyptian Nile Valley was home to one of the oldest cultures in the world, spanning three thousand years of continuous history.

When Egypt fell under a series of foreign occupations after 343 BC, each left an indelible mark on the country's cultural landscape.

Egyptian identity evolved in the span of this long period of occupation to accommodate in principal two new religions, Christianity and Islam, and a new language, Arabic, and its spoken descendant, Egyptian Arabic.

The degree with which these factors are estimated today by different groups in Egypt in articulating a sense of collective identity can vary greatly, and therefore continue to be a source of frequent debate.

Questions of identity came to fore in the last century as Egypt sought to free itself from foreign occupation for the first time in two thousand years.

Three chief ideologies came to head: ethno-territorial Egyptian nationalism and by extension Pharaonism, secular Arab nationalism and pan-Arabism, and Islamism.

Egyptian nationalism predates its Arab counterpart by many decades, having roots in the nineteenth century and eventually becoming the dominant mode of expression of Egyptian anti-colonial activists of the pre and inter-war periods.

It was nearly always articulated in exclusively Egyptian terms:

    “ What is most significant [about Egypt in this period] is the absence of an Arab component in early Egyptian nationalism.

    The thrust of Egyptian political, economic, and cultural development throughout the nineteenth century worked against, rather than for, an "Arab" orientation...

    This situation that of divergent political trajectories for Egyptians and Arabs, if anything increased after 1900.”

In 1931, Syrian Arab nationalist Sati' al-Husri remarked following a visit to Egypt that:

    "[Egyptians] did not possess an Arab nationalist sentiment; did not accept that Egypt was a part of the Arab lands, and would not acknowledge that the Egyptian people were part of the Arab nation."

Incidentally, the later 1930s would become a formative period for Arab nationalism in Egypt, thanks in large part to efforts by Syrian/Palestinian/Lebanese intellectuals.

Yet a year after the establishment of the League of Arab States in 1945 to be headquartered in Cairo, Oxford University historian H. S. Deighton was still writing:

    “ The Egyptians are not Arabs, and both they and the Arabs are aware of this fact.

    They are Arabic-speaking, and they are Muslim indeed, religion plays a greater part in their lives than it does in those either of the Syrians or the Iraqi.

    But the Egyptian, during the first thirty years of the [twentieth] century, was not aware of any particular bond with the Arab East...

    Egypt sees in the Arab cause a worthy object of real and active sympathy and, at the same time, a great and proper opportunity for the exercise of leadership, as well as for the enjoyment of its fruits.

    But she is still Egyptian first and Arab only in consequence, and her main interests are still domestic.”

It was not until the Nasser era more than a decade later that Arab nationalism became a state policy and a means with which to define Egypt's position in the Middle East and the world, usually articulated vis-à-vis Zionism in the neighbouring Jewish state.

For a while Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic, and when the union was dissolved, it eventually gave rise to the current official name, Arab Republic of Egypt.

Egypt's attachment to Arabism, however, was particularly questioned after its defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War, when thousands of Egyptians lost their lives and the country become disillusioned with Arab politics.

Nasser's successor Sadat, both by policy and through his peace initiative with Israel, revived an uncontested Egyptian particularist orientation, unequivocally asserting that only Egypt was his responsibility, and the terms "Arab", "Arabism" and "Arab unity", save for the new official name, became conspicuously absent.[

Indeed, as professor of Egyptian history P. J. Vatikiotis explains:

    “ ...the impact of the October 1973 War (also known as the Ramadan or Yom Kippur War) found Egyptians reverting to an earlier sense of national identity, that of Egyptianism.

    Egypt became their foremost consideration and top priority in contrast to the earlier one, preferred by the Nasser régime, of Egypt's role and primacy in the Arab world.

    This kind of national 'restoration' was led by the Old Man of Egyptian Nationalism, Tawfiq el-Hakim, who in the 1920s and 1930s was associated with the Pharaonist movement.”

The question of identity continues to be debated today.

Many Egyptians feel that Egyptian and Arab identities are linked and not necessarily incompatible, while many others continue to believe that Egypt and Egyptians are simply not Arab, emphasizing indigenous Egyptian heritage, culture and independent polity, pointing to the failures of Arab nationalist policies, and publicly voicing objection to the present official name of the country.

This is frequently expressed by ordinary Egyptians themselves; for example, a foreign tourist gave this impression after visiting Egypt:

    "Although an avowedly Islamic country and now part and parcel of the Arab world, Egyptians are very proud of their distinctiveness and their glorious Pharaonic past dating back to 3500 BC... 'We are not Arabs, we are Egyptians,' said tour guide Shayma, who is a devout Muslim."

In late 2007, el-Masri el-Yom daily newspaper conducted an interview at a bus stop in the working-class district of Imbaba to ask citizens what Arab nationalism (el-qawmeyya el-'arabeyya) represents for them.

One Egyptian Muslim youth responded:

    "Arab nationalism means that the Egyptian Foreign Minister in Jerusalem gets humiliated by the Palestinians, that Arab leaders dance on hearing of Sadat's death, that Egyptians get humiliated in the Arab Gulf States, and of course that Arab countries get to fight Israel until the last Egyptian soldier."

Another felt that:

    "Arab countries hate Egyptians" and that unity with Israel may even be more of a possibility than Arab nationalism, because he believes that Israelis at least respect Egyptians.

Some contemporary prominent Egyptians who oppose Arab nationalism or the idea that Egyptians are Arabs include Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass[, popular writer Osama Anwar Okasha, Egyptian-born Harvard University Professor Leila Ahmed, Member of Parliament Suzie Greiss, in addition to different local groups and intellectuals.

This understanding is also expressed in other contexts, such as Neil DeRosa's novel Joseph's Seed in his depiction of an Egyptian character "who declares that Egyptians are not Arabs and never will be."

Egyptian critics of Arab nationalism contend that it has worked to erode and/or relegate native Egyptian identity by superimposing only one aspect of Egypt's culture.

These views and sources for collective identification in the Egyptian state are captured in the words of a linguistic anthropologist who conducted fieldwork in Cairo:

    “ Historically, Egyptians have considered themselves as distinct from 'Arabs' and even at present rarely do they make that identification in casual contexts; il-'arab [the Arabs] as used by Egyptians refers mainly to the inhabitants of the Gulf states...

    Egypt has been both a leader of pan-Arabism and a site of intense resentment towards that ideology.

    Egyptians had to be made, often forcefully, into "Arabs" [during the Nasser era] because they did not historically identify themselves as such.

    Egypt was self-consciously a nation not only before pan-Arabism but also before becoming a colony of the British Empire.

    Its territorial continuity since ancient times, its unique history as exemplified in its pharaonic past and later on its Coptic language and culture, had already made Egypt into a nation for centuries.

    Egyptians saw themselves, their history, culture and language as specifically Egyptian and not "Arab."

Source {From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia -Egypt}

Webmaster' Osama El-kadi opinion

"It is OK to debate such a subject as Egyptian identity for certain, when people have the time to indulge in such philosophical dispute.

It is OK to conclude that Egyptians are Egyptians. While such a debate is fruitless in its conclusion as it reached the same fact that it has started with, This conclusion doesn't solve any problem or advance the Arabs to a better life.

It is indeed a more worthy cause for the Egyptians to consider themselves Arabs and UNIT to gain leverage in this hard world of groups uniting for advantage and a better life.

"Egyptian Identity

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