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The Pharaonist movement or Pharaonism is an ideology that rose to prominence in Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s. It looked to Egypt's pre-Islamic past and argued that Egypt was part of a larger Mediterranean civilization. This ideology stressed the role of the Nile River and the Mediterranean Sea. Pharaonism's most notable advocate was Taha Hussein.
Egyptian identity since the Iron Age Egyptian Empire evolved for the longest period under the influence of native Egyptian culture, religion and identity (see Ancient Egypt). The Egyptians came subsequently under the influence of brief successions of foreign rulers including Nubians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks, French and British. Under these foreign rulers, the Egyptians accommodated two new religions, Christianity and Islam, and a new language, Egyptian Arabic.
Questions of identity came to fore in the 20th century as Egyptians sought to free themselves from British occupation, leading to the rise of ethno-territorial secular Egyptian nationalism (also known as "Pharaonism").
"Pharaonism" has its roots in the 19th century and rose to prominence in the 1920s and 1930s. It looked to Egypt's pre-Islamic past and argued that Egypt was part of a larger Mediterranean civilization. This ideology stressed the role of the Nile River and the Mediterranean. Pharaonism's most notable advocate was Taha Hussein. It became the dominant mode of expression of Egyptian anti-colonial activists of the pre- and inter-war periods:
|“||What is most significant [about Egypt in this period] is the absence of an Arab component in early Egyptian nationalism. The thrust of Egyptian political, economic, and cultural development throughout the nineteenth century worked against, rather than for, an "Arab" orientation... This situation—that of divergent political trajectories for Egyptians and Arabs—if anything increased after 1900.||”|
In 1931, following a visit to Egypt, Syrian Arab nationalist Sati' al-Husri remarked that "[Egyptians] did not possess an Arab nationalist sentiment; did not accept that Egypt was a part of the Arab lands, and would not acknowledge that the Egyptian people were part of the Arab nation." The later 1930s would become a formative period for Arab nationalism in Egypt, in large part due to efforts by Syrian/Palestinian/Lebanese intellectuals. Nevertheless, a year after the establishment of the League of Arab States in 1945, to be headquartered in Cairo, Oxford University historian H. S. Deighton was still writing:
|“||The Egyptians are not Arabs, and both they and the Arabs are aware of this fact. They are Arabic-speaking, and they are Muslim —indeed religion plays a greater part in their lives than it does in those either of the Syrians or the Iraqi. But the Egyptian, during the first thirty years of the [twentieth] century, was not aware of any particular bond with the Arab East... Egypt sees in the Arab cause a worthy object of real and active sympathy and, at the same time, a great and proper opportunity for the exercise of leadership, as well as for the enjoyment of its fruits. But she is still Egyptian first and Arab only in consequence, and her main interests are still domestic.||”|
One of the most prominent Egyptian nationalists and anti-Arabists was Egypt's most notable writer of the 20th century, Taha Hussein. He expressed his disagreement with Arab unity and his beliefs in Egyptian nationalism on multiple occasions. In one of his most well known articles, written in 1933 in the magazine "Kawkab el Sharq", he wrote saying:
|“||Pharaonism is deeply rooted in the spirits of the Egyptians. It will remain so, and it must continue and become stronger. The Egyptian is Pharaonic before being Arab. Egypt must not be asked to deny its Pharaonism because that would mean: Egypt, destroy your Sphinx and your pyramids, forget who you are and follow us! Do not ask of Egypt more than it can offer. Egypt will never become part of some Arab unity, whether the capital [of this unity] were to be Cairo, Damascus, or Baghdad.||”|
Until the 1950s, Egypt was more in favor of territorial, Egyptian nationalism and distant from the pan-Arab ideology. Egyptians generally did not identify themselves as Arabs, and it is revealing that when the Egyptian nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul met the Arab delegates at Versailles in 1918, he insisted that their struggles for statehood were not connected, claiming that the problem of Egypt was an Egyptian problem and not an Arab one.
It was not until the Nasser era more than a decade later that Arab nationalism, and by extension Arab socialism, became a state policy and a means with which to define Egypt's position in the Middle East and the world, usually articulated vis-à-vis Zionism in the neighboring Jewish state. For a while Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic. When the union was dissolved, Egypt continued to be known as the UAR until 1971, when Egypt adopted the current official name, the Arab Republic of Egypt. The Egyptians' attachment to Arabism, however, was particularly questioned after the 1967 Six-Day War. Thousands of Egyptians had lost their lives and the country became disillusioned with Arab politics. Nasser's successor Sadat, both through public policy and his peace initiative with Israel, revived an uncontested Egyptian orientation, unequivocally asserting that only Egypt and Egyptians were his responsibility. The terms "Arab", "Arabism" and "Arab unity", save for the new official name, became conspicuously absent. (See also Liberal age and Republic sections.)
Many Egyptians today continue to insist that Egypt and Egyptians are simply not Arab, emphasizing indigenous Egyptian heritage, culture and independent polity; pointing to the failures of Arab and pan-Arab nationalist policies; and publicly voicing objection to the present official name of the country.
In late 2007, el-Masri el-Yom daily newspaper conducted an interview at a bus stop in the working-class district of Imbaba to ask citizens what Arab nationalism (el-qawmeyya el-'arabeyya) represented for them. One Egyptian Muslim youth responded, "Arab nationalism means that the Egyptian Foreign Minister in Jerusalem gets humiliated by the Palestinians, that Arab leaders dance upon hearing of Sadat's death, that Egyptians get humiliated in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and of course that Arab countries get to fight Israel until the last Egyptian soldier." Another felt that,"Arab countries hate Egyptians", and that unity with Israel may even be more of a possibility than Arab nationalism, because he believes that Israelis would at least respect Egyptians.
Some contemporary prominent Egyptians who oppose Arab nationalism or the idea that Egyptians are Arabs include Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass, popular writer Osama Anwar Okasha, Egyptian-born Harvard University Professor Leila Ahmed, Member of Parliament Suzie Greiss, in addition to different local groups and intellectuals. This understanding is also expressed in other contexts, such as Neil DeRosa's novel Joseph's Seed in his depiction of an Egyptian character "who declares that Egyptians are not Arabs and never will be."
Egyptian critics of Arab nationalism contend that it has worked to erode and/or relegate native Egyptian identity by superimposing only one aspect of Egypt's culture. These views and sources for collective identification in the Egyptian state are captured in the words of a linguistic anthropologist who conducted fieldwork in Cairo:
|“||Historically, Egyptians have considered themselves as distinct from 'Arabs' and even at present rarely do they make that identification in casual contexts; il-'arab [the Arabs] as used by Egyptians refers mainly to the inhabitants of the Gulf states... Egypt has been both a leader of pan-Arabism and a site of intense resentment towards that ideology. Egyptians had to be made, often forcefully, into "Arabs" [during the Nasser era] because they did not historically identify themselves as such. Egypt was self-consciously a nation not only before pan-Arabism but also before becoming a colony of the British Empire. Its territorial continuity since ancient times, its unique history as exemplified in its pharaonic past and later on its Coptic language and culture, had already made Egypt into a nation for centuries. Egyptians saw themselves, their history, culture and language as specifically Egyptian and not "Arab."||”|
- Jankowski, James. "Egypt and Early Arab Nationalism" in Rashid Khalidi, ed. The Origins of Arab Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, pp. 244-45
- qtd in Dawisha, Adeed. Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press. 2003, p. 99
- Jankowski, "Egypt and Early Arab Nationalism", p. 246
- Deighton, H. S. "The Arab Middle East and the Modern World", International Affairs, vol. xxii, no. 4 (October 1946), p. 519.
- Taha Hussein, "Kwakab el Sharq", August 12th 1933: إن الفرعونية متأصلة فى نفوس المصريين ، وستبقى كذلك بل يجب أن تبقى وتقوى ، والمصرى فرعونى قبل أن يكون عربياً ولا يطلب من مصر أن تتخلى عن فرعونيتها وإلا كان معنى ذلك : اهدمى يا مصر أبا الهول والأهرام، وانسى نفسك واتبعينا ... لا تطلبوا من مصر أكثر مما تستطيع أن تعطى ، مصر لن تدخل فى وحدة عربية سواء كانت العاصمة القاهرة أم دمشق أم بغداد
- Makropoulou, Ifigenia. Pan - Arabism: What Destroyed the Ideology of Arab Nationalism?. Hellenic Center for European Studies. January 15, 2007.
- "1971 - Egypt's new constitution is introduced and the country is renamed the Arab Republic of Egypt." Timeline Egypt. BBC News, Timeline: Egypt
- Dawisha, p. 237
- Dawisha, pp. 264-65, 267
- Ragab, Ahmed. El-Masry el-Yom Newspaper. "What is the definition of 'Arab Nationalism': Question at a bus stop in Imbaba". May 21, 2007.
- In response to queries about Tutankhamun in a recent lecture, Hawass declared "Egyptians are not Arabs..." "Tutankhamun was not black: Egypt antiquities chief". AFP. Retrieved 2007-09-27.
- An Interculturalist in Cairo. InterCultures Magazine. January 2007.
- We are Egyptians, not Arabs. ArabicNews.com. 11/06.2003.
- Egyptian people section from Arab.Net
- Princeton Alumni Weekly
- Review by Michelle Fram Cohen. The Atlasphere. Jan. 17, 2005.
- Haeri, Niloofar. Sacred language, Ordinary People: Dilemmas of Culture and Politics in Egypt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2003, pp. 47, 136.