>Racism and Prejudice in Egypt

>There is nothing in the world I hate more than racist bigots, and unfortunately most Egyptians are both. Being a racist is one thing, but NOT admitting that you are one takes the issue to a whole different level.

Some prejudice is expected, because of cultural/religious norms, such the prejudice against homosexuals, atheists, and other people who do not abide to the norms. Yet, some other forms of prejudice are just mind boggling: like the ‘color’ prejudice in Egypt. Yes, it is a color prejudice. If you are not a certain hue of white, you are inferior by Egyptian standards—God forbid that you might actually be black!!

The irony of it all is that Egyptians are not Nordic Aryan descendants of Vikings. We are Africans, among of course a wonderful and exotic mix of races that our DNA has picked up through thousands of years of foreign invasions of the land of the Nile. I suppose that therein lies the problem, foreign invasions! Through hundreds of years of Turks ruling Egypt (who have fairer skin than the native population), fair skin became associated with superiority and dark skin with the working slaves! And hence was born the infamous ‘khawaga complex’. No matter how pathetic this may seem, it is true. The Egyptians identified more with the oppressors, instead of wanting to break the cycle, they were eager to mate with the invaders so that they would have ‘whiter’ kids. To this day, having ‘Turkish blood’ is supposed to be a sign of superiority!! Heck, come to think all of the invaders were white: Romans, the Brits (C’mon, you can’t count the French-they didn’t stay long enough!)

This might just seem like a lesson in pseudo-history (or at least my interpretation of history); when in fact this little tale has modern day repercussions. Kids at ‘International’ schools, with highly educated parents, play ‘who-is-whiter’ games. The ‘fairest of them all’ gets to be Cinderella or, appropriately, Snow White. And the darkest? Well, one of the evil step-sisters or a maid in the palace of the princess. This is , albeit psychologically damaging, small-scale discrimination.

The true victims of overt racism here are the Nubians. The quite, peace-loving, people down South who have been screwed over and over again for years. Their villages were drowned; their heritage sunk to the bottom of Lake Nasser, and the whole of Egypt just celebrated the building of the high dam. They are taunted on the streets. Their kids are made fun of, if dare to live up North. Even when a half-Nubian president, Anwar El Sadat, came to power, the word on the street was that he was ‘too brown.’ Zahy Hawwas came out a few years ago assuring Egyptians that Tutankhamon was Not BLACK! Being black is grounds to get you harassed on a Subway .

I still do believe that the problem goes beyond that. It is a problem of self-acceptance, of wanting all-things European, and turning away from who we truly are as a people. Parents, inadvertently, through all their subtle little comments and messages teach little ‘brown’ kids that they are somehow defective and inferior, that they should feel bad in their own skin—literally!

When my daughter came to me with the story I wrote earlier in the post, I told her that next time some kid talks about that in front of her she should say :’mommy says, we are not supposed about skin color. It is haram. And God doesn’t like people who do it.’ And then I showed her pictures of very beautiful black women, as pretty as Cinderella, to prove to her that beauty has nothing to do with skin color.

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17 thoughts on “>Racism and Prejudice in Egypt

  1. >Hello miro ..nice article , I can see that you are making progress ! that is great .. btw, I think you should put link to mimi story in this post so ppl can jump easily to it instead of searching.i still think you should write in Arabic ..or you found that English attract many people ? may be i am wrong anyway .. who knows ..!! Ahmed Fawzy

  2. >Thanx Ahmed 🙂 The reason I don't write in Arabic is….*DRUMROLL* >>>>> My Laptop's keyboard does not have Arabic letters!!! So maybe I should go to COMPUME and get Arabic letter stickers 😀 No seriously, I write in English because I am more comfortable that way. I am sure that if I write in Arabic It'll appeal to more people. I have writing in Arabic on my to-do list, though. When I do, will you publish my articles in your mag? I don't really know how to do that link thing, can you explain it to me?

  3. >Hi Fem4ever… Quite true.. and smart and orginal article, i do not see the press writing about rascism… Like to see you writing about politics. Yours. A fan of Egypt

  4. >Thank you :)) I think the press does not have any particular interest in that issue.They would only be offending their readers if they do so. It's not a topic that will help them sell better so they avoid it!If you have any special requests for particular topics, let me know 🙂

  5. >Of course weather you write in arabic,English or french you can publish on my magazine and then i will push the good articles like the one about meat to my group (about 850 person) , so we can spread the idea .. i will send you Editor account 2day @ ur facebook , and if you agree i can re publish some if your articles that you already did in my magazine ..

  6. >Lol. Yeah, sometimes it feels having to get married to a white woman is religious doctrine in this country. The thing is, Egyptians aren't white at all! I would not, however, go as far as to call it "racism". I have never seen a black person harassed on public transport, either. Sure, kids will make fun of other kids and its regrettable and unacceptable, but kids can be cruel in any school and in any country on earth. It is true that Nubians are an unlucky bunch, and have been so for centuries, which is also sad because they are such a peaceful decent people. But I think prejudice and racism are too strong to describe the khawaga complex. It's more of just wanting something different. Maybe in marriage or something like that people will prefer a whiter partner, but I have never seen a dark or black Egyptian discriminated against in work / school because of his color.Anyway, great blog. I just stumbled upon it now and it looks cool 😉

  7. >Very valid insights from a true Egyptian ;D Racism does not , of course, apply to the khwaga complex per say. But just consider how some racial remarks are common place in our society and you might agree : "inta hindi yabne?" for example! The harassment on public transport is an incident I found here http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/opinion/10iht-edeltahawy.1.18556273.html, sad .. but it does happen. Kids are just a product of society, they reflect our best and worst values without inhibitions. Glad you liked the blog, keep coming back for more ….

  8. >oh yes, I would call it racism, discrimination whatever … looks, and colour especially, do matter. Try entering Heliopolis or Gezira Club if Ethiopian or from the Philippines … very special treatment indeed.I experience it the other way round, being a foreigner, European, I fight a more or less constant fight against being cheated (since people assume me being a tourist), whistled at, my daughter being spoken to in English (hey, there are some 180+ countries where no English is spoken, and again and again I get that pointless question – from supposedly educated people – 'but why does she not speak English, since you are a foreigner …')No, it's not nice, and I also do not like the fact that I have to pay more for entering museums or heritage sites, simply because I look different and hold a foreign passport.After many years in this country, I truly can say that being a foreigner here is not different from being a foreigner in many other countries – a struggle against prejudices, misconceptions, and the locals feeling superior.This is something that needs to be overcome everywhere on this planet …But in the end, if it was too bad, I would not be here any longer, trust me. However, it is truly not because I love Egypt, but because this country happens to have become my (2nd) home and leaving is no real alternative.

  9. >Hello,Thank you for sharing this, although insightful, I think there are some in accuracies in what you're saying.I think just because there are racists in Egypt doesn't make all Egyptians racist. There are parts of Egypt where there is constant hostility between Muslims and Christians, but that's not the case here. I have christian friends. I introduced one to a christian frien of my fiance and they're a couple now. One of my life long friends is from Sudan. We call him Samra. It doesn't offend him. It doesn't make me racist. I'm a short guy, i'm shorter than average. when people call me short or whatever, does that make them racist against short people? come on.Racism and discrimination are everywhere. In the US some fair skinned black people are racist against dark skinned people. In parties and social gatherings, they actually used to use a brown paper bag to compare people's skin color against it to know who to let in and who not to. True story, google it.The point is, yes, there are alot of negatives in this country. what i don't get is why everyone seems to be so intent on just talking about them. Do we not see any beauty living our lives in this country? do we not witness any acts of kindness at all? Are those not worth mentioning at all?Anyway, just a thought 🙂 Again thanks for sharing.

  10. >Hi Karam, Thanks for sharing your take on the post! As you might have noticed from my other posts.. especially the ones about the media in Egypt that I am completely against dwelling on all the negatives. In fact, I think it's despicable, but when it comes to racism I made the point because most people don't even realize that they are indeed, racist.You can never be completely sure, after all, that "Samra" did not find the term offensive. Hey, even some blondes don't like to be called blondies!!When people make fun of someone based on their height, weight, looks, religion, or the color of their skin that makes them insensitive and rude–because the other party might be offended, you can never be sure that they won't be.However, if you were denied a job because of your height, weight etc…. then that is racist behavior. I bring up the issue of racism because demeaning racist comments are also very "in-Islamic" and damaging to all Egyptians… like I said we are not white caucasians after all! As for religious discrimination…now THAT is a completely different issue that I might address at a later post 🙂

  11. >Hey thanks for leaving a comment on my blog Black in Cairo. As a black person who's lived in the US, France, and Korea before going to Egypt, Egpyt is the most racist society I've ever come across. The nEed to identify with a whiteness they don't posess while deriding blackness often leads to ignorant harassment in the street and violence towards black people. As a black person, I've experienced both on several occasions especially from Egyptian men. However, I noticed a complacency and acceptance from Egyptian women when I was treated badly in public, some even participated, that lead me to believe that racism is a larger societal and psychological issue. As you pointed out, egyptians seek to identify with the oppressor and don't realize that the treatment they bestow on black people is the same type of poor treatment Arabs receive in western nations. W/o an acknowledgment of racism in this society and a movement for civil and women's rights though, people have no frame of reference for bigotry. They do not realize that calling a black person samara or abd is negative b/c this racist behavior has become a norm passed down thru generations. Egypt was the most unwelcoming place I've ever been and I don't plan on returning. For the people who posted here, stop and ask a somali or sudanese person about how they are treated one day

  12. >I am really disheartened to read/hear about the extent of the racist behavior here. I agree with you about the lack of frame of reference for bigotry. In fact, I can not think of an arabic equivalent for the word! My heart really goes out to refugees who have no where else to go…..

  13. >I really admire your article its really so true and unfortunately this really happens in Egypt. I was thinking of that problem earlier and it makes me so sad I really hate racism. God created us with different color, shapes and heights so, we should all accept our differences and admire them . One of my friend that have dark skin had a boyfriend that wanted to marry her but his mother wouldn't approve because she had a dark skin, I was shocked when she told me that…. I hope we all accept each others as humans and accept our differences please STOP…

  14. >Hope, I sure hope so too 😉 but this will never happen until more egyptians see and believe that we ARE very prejudiced in Egypt, just like you do did. Spread the word and maybe one day it will just dawn on people that we should accept ourselves and others just the way God intended us too. Thank you for your insightful comment. It gives me hope 🙂

  15. >Unfortunately Egyptians do not understand how racist they are. Racism is so part of the norm, and no one bothers to do anything about it, that the average Egyptian thinks its completely normal and there's nothing wrong with it.Yes first of all, Egyptians need to understand that original, we are dark-skinned people. Our ancestors migrated from the south to settle in Egypt. The Pharaohs, of whom we are so proud, were actually dark-skinned.The complexity and weight we put to the color issue is insane! To the person on this blog who said he/she never saw racist behavior to a black person on public transportation, you probably never went on one then!Dark-skinned people are constantly made fun of in the subway and it is so cruel. The jabs and giggles and laughs and pointing are ridiculous.Having said that, however, I think the situation is slowly changing. I know for example that at the time of our grandparents, they would never approve of a fair-skinned girl marrying a dark-skinned man. Today, things are slowly changing.What lingers, like you pointed out Amira, is the undertone, sublime messages that directly feed into the brain that says that white is better. That will take effort from parents to properly bring up their sons and daughters, but it is something completely worth it. I make sure I point out such inconsistencies to my nieces for example if we are every going out together. They need to know that we are all equals when it comes to how we look like.

  16. >J'aime vraiment votre article. J'ai essaye de trouver de nombreux en ligne et trouver le v?tre pour être la meilleure de toutes. Mon francais n'est pas tres bon, je suis de l'Allemagne. Mon blog: solution rachat credit ou Rachat De Credit meilleur taux

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