Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Identity crisis

Hossam from the Arabist has started a new blog called "3arabawi". Now the meaning of this term is different than identifying oneself culturally or politically as an Arab, pan-Arabist, or Arabist - whose different meaning is explained on that site.

I don't follow the Arabist, and I don't know who Hossam is, but on his new site he introduces himself as an Egyptian journalist; being so and identifying himself as 3arabawi demonstrates an alarming lack of knowledge of Egyptian history and identity. I'm sure it's unintentional but it's also very sad. I'll just leave the matter at that.

'Tis a sign o' the times, sigh...

29 comments:

Egyptian_Patriot said...

It's sad indeed man. THat Egyptians are so easily called or associated with the notion of arabdom, even quicker than other arab countries. But what do you expect? Even the Idea of Being an Egyptian Citizen is dead and it's replaced with loyalty based on faith. Muslims and Copts. SInce 1952, we've been taught..."we are arabs born in Egypt"...for years we've been called the united arab republic....even thought syria left it a long time ago. The idea of Egypt being a unique country with it's own history an identity has been killed by corrupt failed dictatorships, with the islamists nailing the coffin shut after. And this is why we are a lost country. Any country that denies it's true identity and it's past, is a country that has no future. By the way dude, it's pleasure reading you blog. It's nice to know that there is on Egyptian out there who hasn't called himself arab.

demira said...

Thanks Senefru and Egyptian_Patriot for bringing this up, this is one of my favorite topics. When you read history books pre-Nasser and then check out the ones post-Nasser, you'd wonder if you were still reading about the same country.

There really used to be a time when Egyptians were simply Egyptian, who thought it was such a great thing to be Egyptian, didn't feel it was important to attach something else to it except when practicing their religion, but still came together as Egyptians; whose allegiance was to their mother country Egypt, and only wanted the best for Egypt and their fellow Egyptians. And it was only like 50 or so years ago. These were not aberrations or abstractions, they were the people who were the intellectuals and national leaders of the pre-coup era, from Zaghloul to Hakim. I am still amazed by what they said, did and accomplished.

Come Nasser, and it's like I've stepped into the twilight zone. A foreign country, with a harsh, cold, unforgiving climate. Have the Egyptians been completely brainwashed? Not completely, while Nasser inflicted a lot of damage, I see things, hear things or read things by Egyptians that give me hope. Egypt survived for thousands of years in our minds and hearts--and it's in our subconscious. No one can take that away from us.

Thank you guys, really.

MechanicalCrowds said...

I love you guys!!!! I agree so much.

Anonymous said...

When I think of Egyptians, I think "accomplishment and civilization". It would be wonderful to see citizens of Egypt again calling themselves Egyptians, and having that identity above all.
Thank you, guys! The world is a better place just because you all are in it. Really, I mean it. Best regards from Texas, lynne

Seneferu said...

Egyptian patriot, demira, mechanical and lynne, thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

Egypeter said...

Senefru - I couldn't AGREE with you more!! It's so refreshing to see Egyptians with your perspective.

It's not a matter of "flag waving" or "nationalism"...it's a matter of who we are and it's Egyptian not Arab. I take tremendous pride in the fact that I'm Egyptian and I wish all Egyptian would as well. We are unique. We are different from others in the region. We also must stand up for our rights as Egyptians. I hope that a political party rises up in Egypt with Egyptians' interests as their priority.

Keep up the good work on this blog, I enjoy it :)

شهرزاد Shahrazad said...

Hey, what a great blog. Seriously though, do you guys not agree that the majority of Egyptians have identified themselves as Arabs for a while now and that it has in a way become a part of the evolving Egyptian identity? I'm not a fan but i think the Arab identity wasn't purely political in Egypt and went beyond Nasser's vision, so much so that Egyptians now believe that they were always Arab.

demira said...

Hi Shahrazad! No, not really because Arab identity seems to always come at the expense of Egyptian identity, even when people claim otherwise. It got so bad under Abdel Nasser that if you expressed pride in being Egyptian above all else, it bordered on treason! Sadat, who I am not a huge fan of in other areas, at least tried to undo some of that damage, but more needs to be done. Egyptians should be proud of who they really are. And I don't think Egyptians always considered themselves Arab. El Gabarti, the Egyptian historian who lived at the time of Mahamed Ali, applied the term Arab only to the Bedouin tribes, which is how many of the Egyptian fellahin still use that term. To this day, Egyptians in general use the term "el 3arab" colloquially to describe Saudi/Gulf/Jordanian Arabs, but not themselves. I recommend reading Leila Ahmed's memoir A Border Passage, where she talks about how Arab identity was "constructed" for Egypt in the 50s.

forsoothsayer said...

u know, it's not really a matter of fact or anything senerfru. hossam, and anyone else, can identify himself as being arab and egyptian at the same time. howa 7or fe ra2yo ya akhi, and it's not exactly an ignorant one. there are many solid bases for such a view.

Seneferu said...

Hi Peter, good to have you on board.

I had a nice exchange with Hossam in his blog, where he said: "I'm someone who does not believe I'm afraid in nationalism and patriotism, whether it's Arab or Egyptian...". Unfortunately I can't say the same for myself when talking about Egypt, in Egypt, in expressing the idea of this post which I was glad to see most of us happen to agree on. It has become something which is criminalized in the subcionscious, and that is when you know something is wrong.

Anyway many other countries in the region have their own unique heritage to their peoples and cultures...and while it's good to find as much common ground to share with your neighbors, this should never be done at the expense of obliterating your own heritage and culture; I'm saying it should be celebrated rather than suppressed.

Thanks, Shahrazad! In answer to your question; no not really. Your grandparents' generation for example never referred to themselves as Arabs - not out of chauvinism, but because they simply got on with their lives as Egyptians, and also for the simple fact that they weren't. Your parents probably don't identify themselves as such either, unless maybe in a wider context of political conversation.

In any case, Egypt should be a diverse and big enough place to hold more than one opinion or direction.

Forsooth, :-P. :-) I agree he's free and it's none of my business, but I also feel obliged to comment on the topic in my post.

Seneferu said...

I just wish to add that Hossam seems like a really nice guy, and now I really want to listen to this song which he sings very well here.

Egypeter said...

Just a quick note here.

Hossam is a REALLY nice guy! I didn't mean my comment to sound offensive at all. I've actually exchanged emails with him a couple of times and he's a good guy :)

My point is that I just wish Egyptians would all view themselves as uniquely Egyptian. And I don't mean it in an aggressive ultra-nationalistic way but as a significant cultural way. This is the tie that binds ALL Egyptians. We should be incredibly proud of our Egyptian heritage just as many of Egypt's neighboors are proud of their history...our's is just a little more special :)

I just want Egypt to return back to it's more progressive days, like back in the 50's, when things were better.

Ehh, here's to hope.

Canadian said...

I saw a few years ago on TV an Egyptian lady ethnographer who said that she found old Egyptian still being spoken in some villages in the south. I cannot seem to find any reference to it on the internet, only to Coptic. But it would be so sad to see it disappear altogether.

For every civilization language was the most important defining factor for its identity.

Today's strong influences for standardization make us on the one hand more accepting of each other, yet threaten our old cultural treasures. There are a lot of people who are concerned enough to make the effort of saving, even reviving, nearly lost parts of their heritage. The Syrians are doing it, The Jews are doing it (and I am not speaking now about Hebrew but Ladino), the Irish are doing it. So why not the Egyptians?

Senefru, or anyone receptive enough to the idea, I am definitely not petty... :) You can go ahead, plagiarize this idea, spread it. I would be more than happy to see it happen: language "fan" clubs, newletters, radio transmissions, etc. in "Egyptian". Think about it!

Don't get me wrong, I do not suggest that you promote the idea of replacing Arabic, after all you have a thousand years of literary heritage written in Arabic, foreign language as it may have been originally. But make old Egyptian become an integral, beautiful part of your present cultural wealth.

Demira said...

Hi Canadian! There is a group that used to go by Masr el Om (now the Liberal Egyptian Party) that's working to revitalize the indigenous Egyptian tongue. What you said about the Egyptian ethnographer, however, is really interesting to me. Do you happen to know her name or where I can find more information about her work? This is the first time I hear that indigenous Egyptian was still spoken in the south. Coptic is the last stage of that language, still used in the liturgical services of the Egyptian Church. Are you Egyptian, by the way?

Egypeter said...

Dear people -

Coptic is STILL spoken in a few very isolated areas in Egypt. I'm not exactly sure where and don't have references. But I do know of some households that speak it fluently.

Besides being used in the liturgical service of Coptic Orthodox Christian Churches, the ancient Egyptian language has been experiencing a bit of a revitalization in recent years. Let's hope that Egypt doesn't lose one of its last legacies to the Great Egyptian Pharaohs.

Demira said...

Hi Egypeter! I'm dying to know where Coptic is still spoken in the Sa3id. How can I find out more information if I wanted to go while in Egypt?

Seneferu said...

Canadian, I disagree completely with this concept. 'Reviving' an older form of language that is no longer in use is a bit retrograde and extreme. Israel's biggest problem is that it is so 'out of this region'; instead of belonging to it it is made up of people from Poland, Russia, Australia and the United States, who can neither speak the region's language nor relate to its culture, and therefore it is in in constant struggle and conflict with it.

The strength of Egypt on the other hand is its constant ability to adapt and re-invent itself, while remaining intact with its roots.

Besides, I like the Egyptian language very much as it is. So thank you, but there is no need to plagiarize your idea.

Demira, the people at Masr el Om wanted to give people the option to learn the old Egyptian language, which is good so they can better understand their history and their culture, but they never advocated 'reviving' or recreating the language as was done with Hebrew in Israel. This is a misconception which its opponents made up to discredit it in the press.

demira said...

I think Egyptians should at the very least have the option of studying their ancestral language. I have been studying it for over a year myself and it's proven to be a very rewarding experience. Egyptians would be amazed to find out that a lot of common expressions we use are all remnenats of that language, including the song Wa7awi ya Wa7awi that that I've been hearing a lot now that Ramadan is around the corner. Also, I agree about our modern Egyptian language, el masri, which I'm equally fond of 8-)

Seneferu said...

Demira, you are right and I completely agree with this:)

Thanks for the wa7awi ya wa7awi part, I didn't know that one.

Mohamed said...

Wouldn't it be way more rewarding and useful to learn a language that's actually being spoken today (spanish, mandarine etc, or even a computer programming language) than what demira and canadian are suggesting here? How futile and a waste of time to learn the ancient egyptian language, suppose you've mastered it, ya far7ety, then what, never use it! then forget it altogether within a year or two after spending three years trying to learn, come on guys, get real, think of something useful.

demira said...

Ya far7eti beek enta ya ostaz Mohamed!!! If we were to follow your logic, then we may as well do away with studies of a host of classical languages that have ceased to be spoken but are studied in the world universities, from Latin to Classical Greek to Old English to Akkadian (the lingua franca of antiquity) to Biblical Hebrew to even Classical Arabic! I mean, why don't we also close down all the Linguistics, Classics, and Near Eastern Languages departments in every major university and do away with such "useless" and irrelevant subjects like Egyptology, Historical Linguistics, Ancient Archaeology etc. If knowledge of these languages were lost, we would have basically no knowledge! Many of these were the languages of science and high culture of their time.

There is also a heritage value in studying these languages. The Egyptian language is part of the heritage of Egypt and the Egyptian people, not to mention the entire world, considering that much of our universal knowledge today finds its roots in ancient Egypt. And just like we expend so much effort and resources to renovate and preserve the ancient ruins of our ancestors--an exercise that some may argue is also "useless" and "a waste of time"--the language is no less important. Thank goodness our national Church, the Church of all Egyptians equally, whether Copts or Muslims, has actively worked to preserve that language or else knowledge of it may have in fact been completely lost, and Champollion would not have been able to decipher hieroglyphic writing.

It's also not very polite to tell someone that what they are doing is a waste of time after I already said that my studies of the language are rewarding to *me*. I did express hope that all Egyptians will at least have the *option* of studying Egyptian and Egyptian literature like they do Mandarin Chinese and Ukrainian (!) without actually having to undertake a formal Egyptology program. If some people find selections of incomprehensible pre-Islamic jahiliya poetry important enough to make it compulsory in high school Arabic classes, I find the classic Hymn to the Nile and the Story of Senuhe in their original Egyptian no less important and rewarding to study, and IMO far more relevant to the agrarian lifestyle of the vast majority of modern Egyptians than the Bedouin way of life reflected in Arabic poetry. I have no doubt that at least some other Egyptians share my opinion and don't find it "futile" at all! Welli fat adimoh tah bardo.

Mohamed said...

Demira, setting the empty sloganeering aside, first anyone can study all of the ancient egyptian language they'd like, if it's going to serve them a practical purpose for example if they were archaelogists, historians, tomb robbers etc. (blind pride wouldn't be one of those purposes), but the suggestion of teaching it to the masses is quiet frankly,ludicrous, and yes a big waste of time, as I said feel free to learn it if you've got enough passion about it or if it just makes you feel good, but honestly, I don't see how can someone undertake a task like that unless they're aspiring to be a Howard Carter or a James Henry Breasted.

demira said...

I take it you understand the meaning of "to have the option of" or is the practice of dictating to Egyptians what to learn and how to think become so ingrained that the ability to choose gets completely lost on some supposedly forward-looking individuals? It's certainly nice to know that the decision to make the Egyptian language easily accessible for study to the public is not yours to make and that organizations like جماعة تحوتي للدراسات المصرية (the Tehuti Institute for Egyptian Studies) are already undertaking projects such as these. Hopefully, in the future this will extend to the general curriculum as well.

And Howard Carter or James Henry Breasted? What the...? The language you're speaking of as if it's some sort of prehistoric fossil is the same language that can be heard across churches and monasteries in Egypt to this day, and according to the comments above may still be spoken in some parts of the south (for certain was spoken as a vernacular until at least the 17th century). This is the very same language that was spoken by the pyramid builders, and if more Egyptians can see beyond the end of their noses a little bit, they might find that it's actually far closer to them and their modern reality than they had realized. It's not merely enough to claim descent from the ancient Egyptians as lots of Egyptians are fond of pointing out, when even rudimentary knowledge of that civilization is lacking. It's bad enough we get accused, quite scurrilously, that we only care about our heritage when $$$ is invloved. Kefaya kheiba ba2a.

Mohamed said...

You're taking yourself too seriously regarding this issue demira, as if it's a matter of life or death, well it's not, not even ranked in importance on a scale of one to million, unless you're joking or being sarcastic ofcourse, but whatever makes you sleep at night buddy, I'm sure you'll have a lot of interesting conversations in hyroglephics with yourself. Anyway, enough time wasted on this inconsequential issue anyway. Good luck.

demira said...

The real problem as I see it is that once again you're too wrapped up in your extremely narrow-minded vision to realize that the level of importance of the issue is entirely not yours to make. Incidentally, some people made similar ignorant comments when tens/hundreds of thousands of Egyptians turned out to see the Ramesis II colossus being moved from its square while crying and singing national songs. It had a symbolic value for lots and lots of Egyptians and that's all there is to it (although there is actually a lot more to it than that, but I think I've said enough). And there is no such thing as having "conversations in hyroglephics [sic]". That's like asking someone to have a conversation in riq3a! Please educate yourself.

Mohamed said...

Whatever, I certainly wouldn't lose any sleep on being ignorant on that matter, but I have to give it to you, the analogy with the req3a was really funny, so smart guy enlighten me, and tell me, what did they call the language the pharoahs spoke? And please, don't tell me it's called the ancient egyptian language, because at the time they spoke it, i don't think they knew they're ancient.

Seneferu said...

It was called Egyptian.

Ya Mo ya mo7bet:)...

First of all the comments precededing yours at 9:44pm and 5:53 negate what you later said at 6:17pm, so there's no point of going round in circles like this.

Secondly, all she's saying is that when you gain better knowledge of your old heritage there will be less of this self-bashing and alienation involved, and to the contrary, you will realize that you share much more in common with them than you thought.

Mohamed said...

Actually self criticism (and self bashing, the fair kind of bashing, just not the malignent Sand Monkey type) is the only guarantee for any nation's advancement Seneferu. And regarding your statement about gaining better knowledge about my old heritage is the key to realizing our collective commonality with the ancient egyptians, I agree, but you'd also realize how similar you are to any culture on the face of the earth once you gain better knowledge of it, and to sum my initial point that's completely lost now, is what I wanted to say is "Go and learn Java or C++ and try to write a program, even if no one else uses it, that's way more useful than learning a defunct language"

demira said...

"to sum my initial point that's completely lost now, is what I wanted to say is 'Go and learn Java or C++ and try to write a program, even if no one else uses it, that's way more useful than learning a defunct language'"

::sigh:: It has not been lost; you've repeated it ad nauseam like you are 100% qualified to make that admonition. What you consistently fail to appreciate is that its usefulness or lack thereof is, for one thing, a choice that people make for themselves. It's a very unsophisticated world where the importance of an object lies merely in its economic or day-to-day practical value. The world would have lost some of it most prolific artists had they gone by that sort of advice. If that's how some educated Egyptians think, then no wonder Egypt is in such sad state of affairs.

That said, studying Egyptian does have the potential of creating a better tourism sector. It would attract more Egyptians to the field by exposing and familiarizing them at an early age, making them better and more qualified tourism professionals. Most of what Egyptians learn about their history short of taking up a formal Egyptology program at Cairo University (which few do for similar reasons) or the AUC (inaccessible to the vast majority of Egyptians) is a sort of "folk Egyptology" along the lines of "Egyptian is derived from Arabic" (or a variation of that) or "the Qur'an was revealed through hieroglyphic" that they find at street vendors. That way, we would also hear less nonsense like "speak hieroglyphics" from Egyptians in general.