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The problem of the Egyptian identity

Tarek Heggy
2020 / 3 / 21


Many Egyptians often accuse the Egyptian intellectual or thinker of being non-patriotic if he is critical of the idea of ​​the Islamic nation or the idea of ​​an Arab nation or if the Palestinian issue is not at the top of his interests, nor the focus of his priorities. This will happen even if the authorof those views is internationally recognized, culturally and intellectually credible, and uses the most prestigious sources in our contemporary world.

It is a shame in the cultural life in Egypt today that, although many intellectuals do not believe in concepts such as those of the Islamic nation and the Arab nation, they do not publicly express this view. Many are convinced that the Egyptian nation embraces ancient Egyptian, Coptic, Islamic, Arab and African dimensions because the Egyptian identity is unique. These dimensions, especially the Islamic and Arab ones, do not merge with it.

Most Egyptian intellectuals who do not believe in the concepts of the Islamic and Arab nation are satisfied with expressing their opinion orally in narrow and personal circles. They do not express these views in their writings or in radio or television conversations. Some of them do not limit themselves to a suspicious silence. They rather express vague opinions that do not indicate their truethoughts. This is due to several generations of educated employees who do not envision the space of freedom that was available to thinkers and writers such as Ahmed LutfiEl-Sayyed, Abdul Aziz Fahmy, Taha Hussein, Mohamed Hussein Heikal, Abbas El-Aqqad, Salama Moussa and their generation in the 1930s to the 1950s. 1)

This reality has major implications in the areas ofeducation, media, culture and the religious discourse, which have very wide implications for the Egyptian collective mind.
It is not right for anyone interested in this topic to think that this represents a relatively new phenomenon. The history of Egypt since the French campaign in 1798 attests to the existence of this problem. During the entire period from 1798 until today, that is for 222 years, the Egyptian collective mind was the goal and target of a conflict that never stopped between reactionaries advocating Egypt s belonging to the Islamic identity and enlightened people advocating ideas adopted by senior thinkers such as Ahmed Lutfi El-Sayyed and Taha Hussein, as well as writers such as Tawfiq al-Hakim and Naguib Mahfouz.

These ideas are summed up by two words of Ahmed LutfiEl-Sayyed, that Egypt is Egyptian. It is an approach that does not antagonize nor opposes the Islamic and Arab dimensions of the Egyptian identity, but it is an approach that views these dimensions as components of edification of the Egyptian identity.

It is remarkable that the Arab identity that started as a secular idea created by Syrian intellectuals several decades ago in opposition to the idea of ​​the Ottoman Islamic identity, did not remain independent and secular except for a few decades, after which it became a tail of the Islamic identity.

It is extremely important that I address here what happened in Egypt in 1907, because it reflects with utmost clarity the reality of the identity problem or the truth of the identity conflict in Egypt.

In 1907, two political entities were established: TheNational Party and the Umma Party. The first was aiming atputting an end to the British occupation and returningEgypt to the Ottoman sphere of influence, that is, as part of the Islamic Nation. The second was the Umma Party which had as goal the independence of Egypt from both Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire, with a strong promotion of the idea of ​​an Egyptian Egypt.
The founder of the National Party was Mustafa Kamel who was very close to the ruler of Egypt at this time, Khedive Abbas Helmi II, who ruled Egypt since 1892 until Great Britain deposed him with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. It is known that the ideas of Mustafa Kamel and the ideas of his successor Muhammad Farid were identical with Egypt s exposure to the Ottoman Empireruling. It is also known that Ahmed Lutfi El-Sayyed, head of the Umma Party and other leaders of his party were secularists who believed that Egypt is Egyptian. Ahmed Lutfi El-Sayyed, translated Aristotle. The figurehead of the party was Abdel Aziz Fahmy who was the translator of the Justinian Code that formed the basis for the French laws as presented by Napoleon and which decades later, after 1883, became the foundation of the Egyptian legal system.
This culminated in 1907 as a living embodiment of the identity struggle in Egypt. The Egyptian collective mind has been exposed to several politically motivated tremors.Almost a century and a half after the French laws, this mind felt that its first affiliation is to a Mediterranean community.

Yet, in the past sixty plus years, since the Revolution of 1952, this mind received what can be described as a paramilitary directive that it is the Heart of the Arab Nation! Suddenly, the educational programs, media and cultural programs were directed by the state to convince the nation of these new vocabulary words, the Heart of the Arab Nation, which was decades away from the climate that was produced by Syrian Christians related to the Arab orientation, which was initially secular.

A decade and a half later, the trumpet choir was used to tell the Egyptian collective mind that it is not only Arab but that it is the beating heart of Arabism, changing its hymn, and starting chanting a very different new tone!

Since the beginning of the seventies of the last century, President Sadat of Egypt, along with the regime s choir and propagandists, has been telling the Egyptians that he is a Muslim president of a Muslim country! The state media started to call him "the believer president!”

Neighboring Saudi Arabia, that is the beating heart of Wahhabism, backed the project of the believer president with support for a major mental coup, that is, a coup that embodied the removal of the garment of Arabism and wearing the garment of Islam. One of the tools provided by the state of the beating heart of Wahhabism to the project of the Egyptian believer president at that time, was a legion of preachers who were behind the acceleration of the process of Islamization of Egyptian society. Essam El-Erian, one of the most prominent leaders of the Brotherhood, said during the year of the Brotherhood s rule in Egypt (2012/2013) that the fact that millions of Egyptian women wear the headscarf was a sign of victory for this process.

The faithful president released the members of the Brotherhood from Egypt’s prisons, opening the doors of unions and educational institutions for them. Yet, Islamists who stemmed from the Brotherhood’s school of thoughtassassinated the believer president on October 6, 1981, which showed a clear indication of the consequence of any coalition with any organization of political Islam. For the owners of the absolute truth, any interim alliance or democratic climate is only a means to obtain power and apply what is above all human laws, that is the Sharia.

The bottom line is that during the past 222 years the Egyptian collective mind was subjected to tampering regarding its identity. In the past seven decades this was driven by purely political motives.

The best that has been said about the identity of Egypt was written by the great Taha Hussein in his book “The Future of Culture in Egypt,” published in 1938. The bottom line of what Taha Hussein said is that if we exclude the purposes, motives, political and religious whims, and count only on historical and cultural research, we have no choice but to accept that Egypt s identity is the fruit of the history and geography of Egypt which shows that the mosaic of the Egyptian identity has ancient Egyptian, Coptic, Islamic, and Arabic components in a melting pot of geographical determinism. All these dimensions are governed by a physical reality. Egypt is geographically part of the Mediterranean community. This is what is expressed in the saying “Egypt is Egyptian.”




1) Ahmed Lutfi El-Sayyed, 1872-1963
Salama Moussa, 1887-1958
Abdel Aziz Fahmy, 1970-1951
Taha Hussein, 1889-1973
Muhammad Hussein Heikal, 1988-1956
Abbas al-Aqqad, 1889 - 1964
The Arabic version of this essay : http://www.m.ahewar.org/s.asp?aid=664590&r=0




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