THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, USA

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Volume XIII, Issue # 47, February 16, 2011
Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr., Editor
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EGYPT'S IDENTITY CRISIS
By Raymond Ibrahim

EGYPT & THE QUESTION OF ITS NATIONAL CULTURE:  ARE THE EGYPTIAN PEOPLE PRIMARILY EGYPTIAN, ARAB, OR ISLAMIC?  EGYPTIAN NATIONALISM VERSUS PAN-ARAB NATIONALISM, OR PAN-ARABISM -- EGYPTIAN NATIONAL IDENTITY OR A COMMON ISLAMIST IDENTITY?  REVIVAL OF THE PHARAONIST MOVEMENT -- CAN PHARAONISM DEFEAT BOTH PAN-ARABISM & MILITANT ISLAM?
FULL STORY:   With Egypt's "July Revolution" of 1952, for the first time in millennia, Egyptians were able to boast that a native-born Egyptian, Gamal Abdel Nasser, would govern their nation: Ever since the overthrow of its last native pharaoh nearly 2,500 years ago, Egypt had been ruled by a host of foreign invaders Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks, and Brits, to name a few. After 1952, however, Egypt, it was believed, would finally be Egyptian.

Yet, though Nasser was Egyptian, the spirit of the times that brought him to power was Arab Arab nationalism, or "pan-Arabism" the theory that all Arabic-speaking peoples, from Morocco to Iraq, should unify. (Along with Nasser, the tide of pan-Arabism also brought to power Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, Syria's Hafez Assad, and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.)

The 1952 Revolution significantly Arabized Egypt. That Egypt's official name became the Arab Republic of Egypt as opposed to simply the Republic of Egypt speaks for itself. Whereas before 1952, one could have spoken of a distinctly "Egyptian" character and identity, after it, this identity gave way to an Arab identity. From there, it was a short push to an Islamic identity. Or, as Egyptologist Wassim al-Sissy recently put it, the Revolution "erased the Egyptian character, which had been known for its tolerance, love, freedom, and so on. The Revolution created a nation of slaves."

My Egyptian-born parents, who personally lived through the 1952 Revolution before immigrating to America, often reminisced on this change. Growing up, I used to hear how pre-Revolution Egypt was absolutely nothing like it is now. According to them, because it was under British rule, it was freer and more secular; hardly any women wore the hijab; Alexandria was something of a "mini-Europe." Indeed, if you look at pictures taken in 1940s Egypt and compare them to pictures from today, you might think the former were taken in Europe, the latter in Arabia.

In short, Egyptians saw themselves first and foremost as Egyptians. Certainly, no Egyptians would have referred to themselves as "Arabs" a word back then that connoted "lowly Bedouins" to Egyptian ears. (After all, for Egyptians to think of themselves as "Arabs," because their first language is Arabic, is as logical as American blacks thinking of themselves as "English," because their first language in English.) In the decades preceding the Revolution, there was even a strong Pharaonist Movement, led by influential thinkers like Taha Hussein, which sought to define and promote a distinctly Egyptian character.

Today, as Egypt rocks with revolution, it is poised to assume an even more alien identity. Enter the Muslim Brotherhood: if the 1952 Revolution Arabized Egypt, a Brotherhood takeover will thoroughly Islamicize it, thereby taking it even further away from its roots. Whereas the Arab nationalists of Egypt maintained remnants of the Egyptian character their Islam was notoriously lax the Salafist brand of Islam promoted by Egypt's Brotherhood since its founding in 1928 is thoroughly alien to Egypt.

For example, as opposed to the Egyptian Arab nationalist, who takes great pride in his nation's ancient heritage, today's Egyptian Islamist exults in rejecting and condemning it, calling the pharaohs "infidels" and "tyrants" (according to the terminology of the distinctly Arab Koran), and even trying to destroy Egypt's proudest treasures as we have seen with the recent attacks on Egypt's museums hardly the behavior of someone who thinks of himself as an "Egyptian."

Born in America, I often returned to Egypt, beginning in 1974, when I was a year-old. My experience of Egypt's evolving identity differs from my parents': whereas they watched the Arabization of Egypt, I have been observing its Islamization. Yet, from personal experience, I also know that hardly all Egyptians share the Brotherhood's ideology: for starters, there is a significant Christian minority, the Copts, who clearly have the most to lose should the Brotherhood come to power; then there are the many secularists. Put differently, a great many revolting in the streets of Cairo are doing so for mundane reasons food and jobs rather than to implement Sharia law (which, incidentally, is already a "principal source of legislation" in Egypt's Constitution).

The problem, however, is that, along with having a strong base of direct support, the Muslim Brotherhood is especially poised to assume leadership simply because many Muslims, while indifferent to the Brotherhood's ideological vision, have come to trust them. After all, Hamas' famous strategy of endearing the people to it by providing for their basic needs was learned directly from its parent organization: Egypt's Brotherhood.

Thus, as turmoil engulfs Egypt, it is well to remember that, fundamentally, who the Egyptians see themselves as will determine who they will be. Egypt's future begins when Egyptians see themselves as Egyptians not Arabs, and certainly not Islamists. This is not to say that Egyptians should resurrect the pharaonic language, dress like Imhotep, and worship cats. Rather, as Taha Hussein and others till this day maintain, the Egyptian identity needs to be resurrected, thereby allowing all of the nation's sons and daughters to work together for a better future without the dead weight of foreign encumberments, namely Arabism or, worse, Islamism.


LINKS TO RELATED TOPICS:
Egypt, Arabs, & the Middle East

American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East

North Africa -- The Arab States of Islamic North Africa

The Middle East & the Arabs

Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
Page Three    Page Two    Page One

International Politics & World Disorder:
War, Peace, & Geopolitics in the Real World:
Foreign Affairs & U.S. National Security

   Page Two    Page One

Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.

Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization

Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies

U.S. National Security Strategy



Raymond Ibrahim, a historian of Islam, Islamism and the Middle East, is the Associate Director of the Middle East Forum, a guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College, and the editor of The Al-Qa'ida Reader, a collection of tranlations of key texts and documents of the Islamist movement. Ibrahim's translations of the religious texts and political propaganda comprising this collection help readers comprehend the origins, development, history, and serious danger of the Islamist war doctrines of Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Founders of Al-Qa'ida and implacable enemies of the U.S.A. and the West.


The foregoing article by Raymond Ibrahim was originally published in Pajamas Media, February 14, 2011, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis--vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (URL: http://www.meforum.org/2832/egypt-identity-crisis)


Republished with Permission of the Middle East Forum
Reprinted from the Middle East Forum News
mefnews@meforum.org (MEF NEWS)
February 16, 2011




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