Egypt’s Africa Problem: A Logical Fallacy
When considering what happened to Nubian filmmaker and activist Nada Zatouna it’s important to point out that many people in Egypt retain false ideas about Africa.
In Egypt there is an elephant in the room and that elephant is Africa. Egypt has an Africa problem and that is not new. There exist many misconceptions of Africa among people here. There are three false premises dealing with Africa in particular that many Egyptians believe and which make life more difficult for all blacks in Egypt.
Though many may not verbally admit it, their actions and statements reveal just how pervasive these false premises are in the collective unconscious of a society that silently breeds discriminatory men in pharmacies…
The Three False Premises
1.) Egypt is not in Africa Its quite usual to hear Egyptians of all classes and educational backgrounds to laugh and talk about Africa as if they were not on the continent. When blacks walk the streets here they shout “Afreeqee” or “African” at us as if it is a bad word, along with a whole host of names you cannot shout back of course because those who say these things do not realize what continent they are on. This statement is geographically incorrect, culturally incorrect, and just flat out all over wrong and foolish but most Egyptians go about their lives like it’s true.
2.) There are no Black people in Egypt – This statement is never said aloud here but it is embedded in hearts. Everyone knows what an “Aswani” is, but that doesn’t stop some Egyptians from mocking my Nubian friends on why they speak Arabic so well, it doesn’t stop them from assuming that all blacks in this country are foreigners or refugees as in the case of Nada Zatouna.
3.) There is no racism – Egyptians who have watched racial insults thrown my way while we walk the streets together will say this statement proudly minutes later… This is actually a very common belief here and found among all classes and groups who only imagine racism to be something of those Americans, Germans, or Israelis. Others who advocate this idea are staunch nationalists who wish to shield Egypt and Arabs from criticism especially from foreigners or from fellow citizens who they deem are being “divisive” by bringing the issue up.
Not one of these statements is true, not one of them. But you can always find at least one person in the room who will believe at least one of them if not all three even if they do not openly state it.
The Bifurcation of a Continent and of a People
Mervat Hatem an Egyptian feminist and political scientist at Howard University, one of the United States’ oldest historically black universities, explains in her paper the division of Africa into two regions ignores the ways cultures and peoples have historically blended, interacted and shared traditions among each other.
Hatem says this artificially created division is recent but still influences the way many perceive Africa, from the ordinary citizen to the academic. These “imaginative geographies” she tells us were promoted by the West in their drive to pursue political interests but also to reinforce Africa’s subordinate status as “the other.”
In Egypt, many have internalized these colonial era “imaginary divisions.” They “otherize” Africa and Africans by saying they are not really on the continent. They cannot think outside colonially drawn and enforced borders and geographies.
To be one and of the continent yet refuse it at the same time, to rebuke the people you believe are more “native” is as much a colonialist mentality as it is a colonialized one… and unfortunately it’s not just one pharmacist on Asr Al-Aini Street who thinks like this.
* White Westerners love premise number two in particular – A white expat friend once laughed when another black expat argued that blackness was relevant in revolutionary Egypt. But since of course there no “black” people here she just found that nonsense hilarious! This type of thinking by Westerners also leads to weird things like this for Nubians settling abroad.
* Mervat Hatem’s “Why and How Should Middle East and African Studies Be Connected? “International Journal of Middle East Studies / Volume 41 / Issue 02 / May 2009, pp 189-19
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