In my last blog, I posed the question of cross-ideology and cross-culture friends.
I wanted to know if it’s only me or if it’s in our nature that we are attracted blindly towards those who are closer to us, whether in terms of ideologies, nationalities, language and/or any other aspect you could think of.
Birds of feather flock together, they say! It’s common sense. People who share an array of similarities are attracted together by the core, which they emanate from. They will always be reluctant to include anyone who is different. They might accept him/her at the peripherals of the circle, but never shall he be allowed to the holy center of the group.
Why do we need to affiliate ourselves with a group? Is their something or some kind of message that we are sending to the world by our persistence to be part of specific group of people?! I don’t know.
But the thought first came to me when I was invited a couple of weeks ago to a neighbor/friend’s house for a barbecue in her backyard. She is African-British and all of her friends whom she invited on the day where British who come from various parts of Africa too.
Now, am African as well! Yes! Yes! Yes! Am Egyptian, but doesn’t that make me African? Why are north Africans regarded as not part of Africa?
Tell me first, what came into your minds when you first knew I was Egyptian? How did you visualize me? What were the stereotypes that rushed into your head?
An Egyptian Woman.. hmmmm..let’s see… Middle Eastern, dark skin, Arab, Muslim probably, dark hair or may be veiled, dark eyes, and conservative!
Am sure too that some of you who have not been to Egypt, and whose knowledge about the country spring from American News and Hollywood movies, probably visualized me riding on a camel, beside the pyramids and the sphinx, in the middle of the desert, all dressed up like Nefertiti or a pharaoh, with light-to-dark skin features, and dramatic eye make-up. Really? A Camel?! How am I bringing you this blog then? Plugging my laptop to a palm tree?!
Well! Let’s see where you got it right and where you flopped! Those of you who thought am riding on a camel in the desert, am not even talking to you. Hahaha.
I certainly have a lighter skin tone than the traditional African color. Egyptians are mostly Caucasians, however, the closer you get towards upper Egypt and Sudan, Egyptians start to acquire the common African features. Yes, my hair is dark; yes, am a Muslim, yes, I speak Arabic. But;
– Am not an Arab;
– And there are lots of Egyptians who are Christians;
– There are lots of Egyptians who have light-colored hair and eyes;
– And lots of Egyptian women who are Muslims but choose not to be veiled.
But it never occurred to you that I was essentially African too. Anyway, who am I to judge you?
It turned out I wasn’t aware of my African identity until I went to my neighbor’s house that afternoon. How could I realize that, when we are always told in schools, homes, and media that Egyptians are Caucasian, Middle Easterners, Arab, Muslims! As if the Middle East has become a continent in itself. Don’t laugh! I once had an American friend who thought the Middle East is a Continent!
It’s pathetic! This is what biased, politically- and economically-manipulated education and other messaging platforms do to us.
The dilemma with Egyptians is we have more than 7000 years of culture, yet we have developed a sense of rootlessness and lack of confidence along the years! This sense originated, I believe, with the beginning of the very early colonialists waves; Greeks/Romans, and then the Arab invasion (though many will kill me for this word) bringing Islam with them.
I believe this was a turning point in our sense of Identity. Before that, we were Egyptians with our own relationship with Africa, our own culture, and our own dialect of Arabic or Coptic language (historians still have lots of argument about the language that was used across the region during that time), but after the Arabs came with Islam, and we became part of the bigger empire for many years after, Egyptians were no longer Egyptians or Africans.
Egyptians are now mostly Muslims and they speak Arabic, yet they are not essentially Arabs. We come with a completely different set of culture and ideology, even our character traits are different. But at some point and for some reason or the other, Egyptians have stopped to regard themselves as Egyptians who have much more to do with Africa than any other part of the world.
As years went by, and with the dramatic, economic, and political changes that happened in the 60s and 70s , the need to reinforce the Arab Muslim Identity emerged even stronger. Abdulnasser (our second non-elected president) sold the dream of the Arab union to everyone back then, they almost believed him, and it has cost us a lot.
School curricula kept changing telling young people: Egyptians are Arabs. They totally dropped out Africa! As if North Africa was not really Africa and as if skin color determines our African identity.
Well, Egyptians are not Arabs. Not that I have any disrespect for them, on the contrary I admire them and have so many friends from various Arab backgrounds. But we don’t share any fundamentals, except where religion and language are involved. We have completely different characteristics and mindsets. The most established Muslim Scholars from ancient times who came from the Arab Peninsula and settled in Egypt, changed their views on many religious issues after mingling with Egyptians.
While I could understand the Arab character emanating from the rich nomad heritage, I can’t relate to it as an Egyptian. Yet, when I mingled with my African friends the other day, I knew instantly, I am African. I felt home.
It is something I can’t put in words. Am not an Anthropologist to be able to describe it correctly or in scientific terms, but with them (and those were a group I was meeting for the first time) I actually related. I was myself.
We were all unashamedly loud and emphatic in the way we tell our stories, we had the same sense of humor when we made fun of our Governments and the corruption, which has become part and parcel of the fabric of the continent, we share the same colonialism history, we all suffer from the media stereotyping us, we all had a dream of peace and an unfaltering hope that one day our countries will have a renaissance.
Mind you! We weren’t all Muslims, and we didn’t speak the same mother-tongue.
I went back home that night feeling awkward. Is this why, Egyptians for the last I don’t know how many years, feel like outcasts and left-outs? No allies, no friends, no reinforcements? Of course! We’ve been trying to identify with the wrong group, but they politely and nicely keep pushing us back. They can’t let us become part of their world, we don’t come from the same core.
In the process, we forgot about Africa, and forgot our responsibilities towards our mother land, in return, it forgot about us too. Second thing, you wake up and Ethiopia is building its own dam on the river Nile and they couldn’t care less if we get enough water or not! How could one blame them? Did we pay them or any other African nation the due care and respect?
While am sure they existed, relationship with African nations have not been priority on Egyptian political and economical agenda for so long now. If anything we are reaping what we have sowed.
It is true, whether we like it or not, that we gain power from our family and friends. They evolve into groups, and the bigger they get the stronger the ally. And it is true that the entire group has to share same ideologies, culture, and character. If we don’t hang out with the right group, we will be social outcasts, not that I approve of it, but that’s just how things are.
So how do I identify myself now? Am a Muslim Egyptian African Woman who is open to embrace the world, accept others, on her firm solid grounds.