|Died||October 8, 2009(aged 67)|
Bayoumi Andil (Arabic: بيومي قنديل) (31 July 1942 to 8 October 2009) was an Egyptian linguist, thinker and writer who authored many books on Egyptian culture and Modern Egyptian language. He is one of the most renowned researchers and linguists on the topic of modern Egyptian language.
In his most important book, The present State of Culture in Egypt, Andil points out that Egyptians have attempted to change their national identity and language as well as their national religion since embracing Christianity in the 1st century AD and again after the Arab conquest of Egypt in 641 AD. Andil claims that Egyptians have Egyptianized both Christianity and Islam and argues that the true Egyptian spirit survived only in the oral culture of the illiterate Egyptians, whose illiteracy has protected them and their national identity from annihilation. Andil also published many articles and books, in which he proposed that Modern Masri Egyptian language is nothing but the fourth stage of the languages of the Egyptians, and should not truly be considered a variety of Arabic, but rather a linguistic evolution of the Coptic language and the Ancient Egyptian language. The grammatical, morphological and phonological differences between the spoken Egyptian language and the Arabic language is sufficiently disparate to categorize them into two distinct groups, and the similarities between the first and its Egyptian ancestors, both Coptic and ancient Egyptian, are strong enough to consider the modern Masri Egyptian language an evolution of Ancient Egyptian.
Since the 1980s, Andil's work focused on promoting the revival of Egyptian nationalism. Despite Andil's great admiration for Taha Hussein, an intellectual pillars of the Egyptian enlightenment movement in the first half of the 20th century, Andil criticised Hussein’s publication, Mustaqbal al-Thaqafa fi Misr or (The Future of Culture in Egypt), as Andil perceived it fell short of adequately defining Egyptian culture.
Celebration of plurality
Andil argued that the culture of a nation is the sum total of the value systems created by its people over the entire course of the nation's history. He believed that Egyptian culture is the outcome of an agriculture-based civilisation and that Egyptian forefathers were the first to establish the solar calendar, the bases of medicine and geometry. In his books delineating the achievements of the Egyptians, Andil quoted James H. Breasted to support his hypothesis that the ancient Egyptians were the first to create a system of writing, in addition to referring to the arguments of linguistics scholar Simon Potter over the leading role of the Egyptian alphabet.
Andil focused on plurality as an important dimension of Egyptian culture. Egyptian myths referred to a host of gods. Followers of different gods used to hold festivals to celebrate them. Yet these festivals were universal; the followers of Osiris celebrated Ra and the other way round while followers of Amon sanctified Isis, and so on. This phenomenon can till today be traced; until today, Cairenes celebrate Mulid al-Sayed al-Badawi of Tanta, while Alexandrians celebrate Mulid Abul-Haggag of Luxor. By the same token, Muslims celebrate the Coptic Mulids such as those held to commemorate the Holy Virgin or St Barsoum al-Erian. Such manifestations of plurality promote the value of recognising and accepting the other. There was no room for such value under Akhnaton, who, by calling for the exclusive worship of one god (Aton), became the founder of the culture of takfir (considering those different in religion as infidels) currently prevailing in most Arab and Muslim societies. Yet Akhnaton is commonly revered as the father of monotheism.
A gentle people
Among the cultural norms stressed in Andil’s writing was the respect of women. Unlike the region’s other peoples, Egyptians were distinguished by the appreciation of women. The attributes of Sayeda Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohamed—had their source in those of Isis. The same could be said about her brother al-Hussein whose attributes had much in common with those of Osiris. Although Egyptian culture changed in many ways over the ages, certain features survived. The first is tolerance, a characteristic of agriculture-based societies, and the second is plurality which led Herodotus to describe ancient Egyptians as the most pious people. Centuries later, Sigmund Freud conceived of Egyptians as a gentle people, while he considered Semites wild and savage. Plurality in turn led to the promotion of equality between men and women. Yet there was a setback in terms of the status of women with the advent of the Romans and later the Arabs. Andil has a telling story to confirm his view of the inherent gentleness of Egyptians. He heard the story from a Palestinian friend who was living in Gaza during the Israeli invasion in 1956. When Jewish soldiers of Egyptian origin inspected her home, they caused no harm to the family, on the contrary quelling the family’s fears. One of the soldiers gently told her grandmother: “Don’t be afraid, mother, and don’t bother to get up. Stay where you are”. Iraqi Jew soldiers, by contrast, stormed her neighbours’ house and wreaked havoc in their home and committed horrible crimes.
Out of the dark tunnel
Egyptian culture had an impact on Quran tajweed (the way of chanting Quranic verses). Sheikh Mohammed Refaat used the oriental Nahawand scale in the tajweed while Sheikh Mustafa Ismail used the Bayaty scale. Andil was a staunch defender of illiterate Egyptians for the role they played in preserving and transmitting Egyptian culture from one generation to the next. Educated people connived with the Anglo-Americans to Arabise Egypt. Reactionary ideas and values were accordingly promoted and this climate bred millions of terrorists who antagonise those who believe in other religions. Andil concluded that the only way out of this dark tunnel is to revive the Egyptian nationality. Iranians, for instance, accepted Islam, but never accepted Arabism. They are proud of their pre-Islamic heroes, myths and gods. The same could be said about Finnish people who liberated themselves from the Swedish culture thanks to their intellectuals who spared no effort to revive the national heritage of the country. Indians preserved their culture in the face of the Mongols, while the great Spanish people under Queen Isabella liberated their country from the Arab invaders.
Are we Egyptian?
In sum, Andil’s cultural project revolved around one question: are we Egyptians at the core? Semites—Arabs and Hebrews alike—led tribal pastoral lives based upon violence and seizing others’ lands, whereas the values of tolerance, cooperation and love characterising Egyptian culture has much to do with the agricultural society of our forefathers. Such conflict between the two cultures is very well expressed in the title of Andil’s opus magnum Hadher al-Thaqafa fi Misr (The Present of Culture in Egypt). In the book, Andil posed the decisive question: who is going ultimately to win, the farmers or the herdsmen? Unlike Taha Hussein and Salama Moussa, who opposed the Arabisation of Egypt but set their sights on the Mediterranean, Andil believes that the Egyptian civilisation is African in the first place. Egyptians are Hamites who interacted with a host of peoples and civilisations, but remained Egyptian. Therefore, Egyptians should assert themselves as Africans against Arab identity which, he insists, has for over 14 centuries worked to corrupt the Egyptian identity. Peoples of the region—Egyptians, Berbers, Nubians, Bejas, Kurds and even Yemenis and Hijazis—have no way to preserve their authentic identity but to liberate themselves from Arabism. The outcome would be a more elegant and sophisticated culture that respects all identities. Andil was a great man. Yet his project was opposed by many intellectuals even though not a single study was conducted to refute his premises.