Christians, women and Baha’i people are the among the largest groups of Egyptians that face racial discrimination on a daily basis. Sometimes it is not even intentional but racial slurs and aggressions have passed into Egyptians’ daily dialogue from generation to generation. Part of the problem is the extremist, exclusive Islamic speech which treats the women as the tools of Satan, describes Jews as “pigs and monkeys” while always reminding Christians that they are less that Muslims and that they should accept their position in the society as “second-rate Egyptians.”
On the other hand, bearded Muslims with no political or religious ideology are often maltreated and abused. In the authoritarian regime of late president Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, many veiled women complained of not getting as many job opportunities as their non-veiled counterparts while the extremist regime of ousted president Mohamed Morsi publicly discriminated against non-veiled women because they were not dressed according to the Islamic dress code and thus deserved no respect.
Egyptian Christians, commonly known as Copts, are the among the world’s oldest Christian communities. They’ve been in Egypt before the advent of Islam yet the term “Copt” sometimes is used as a form of inferiority when used by extremist Muslims. Degrading terms have been used against Copts since forever including Blue Bone – Al-Hakim bi Amr Allah, sixth Fatimid caliph forced Copts to wear heavy crosses around their necks until their neck bones became blue- Koftes, which is a diversion of the word Copt and used as a form of mockery by non-Christians, and 4 feathered where the 4 feathers refer to the cross.
When asked, many Egyptian Christians admitted to being hurt by casual phrases such as “He is Christian yet a good person.” Morcos Emad, accountant, admitted to being kicked out of the classroom along with his other Christian colleagues during religion class. “Infidels get out!” that was the exact term the teacher used.
Shamei Asaad, Egyptian historian and novelist, said he despised the prayer “May God bless the souls of Muslim martyrs” for what it carried from discrimination and exclusion. Many Muslims use it in front of Christians without regretting it. Also some Muslims condemn fellow Muslims for offering condolence to non-Muslims or praying for their dead ones. Inas Lotfy and Lydia Youssef both admitted their anger and surprise at Islamic forums dedicated to proving how non-Muslims don’t even deserve prayers or forgiveness after their death for they are already in Hell being tortured. When Nelson Mandela died, many discussion posts were opened just to wonder whether it was allowed to say “RIP Nelson Mandela” or it was haram.
On the other hand, many unveiled Muslim women admitted to being harassed for not covering their hair. Jehan Abd Alazeez, prominent Egyptian writer and schoolteacher, recounted one time when it was the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and she wished a colleague Happy Ramadan. Her colleague -a veiled Muslim- barely suppressed anger as she referred to Abd Alazeez’s uncovered hair and bright clothes saying “When will you become modest? It’s Ramadan!”
Nevein Arafa said that a lot of people used the term “You’re unveiled but respectful” as if it was common for unveiled women to act slutty and she was the exception. Many people advised her to wear a veil because she was a good woman and “Why aren’t you veiled when you are so decent?”
Peter Zaki, engineer, talked of how Coptic college students categorized their peers into either CH “Christian” or UN “non-Christian”. Ramy Elbanna stated how people became surprised at his first name Ramy -not as common as traditional Muslim names Mohamed or Ahmed- and how it was peculiar for a Muslim to carry such a name.
Faiza Sakr, Egyptologist and college professor, admitted to facing discrimination at work. People use the phrase “A woman cannot politically rule men as written in the scripture” to emphasize a woman’s lack of authority or the required qualities to perform such a task. Sakr also says that men use “Woman is awrah” to stress on women’s incompatibility with men. In Arabic, the word awrah means imperfect or defective.
On the other side, D.E., translator and salsa dancer, admitted to discriminating against women wearing burka or the full facial covering. She would purposefully complicate procedures for them during work time and usually treated them terribly.
Mohammed Mahmoud Esmail, political activist, admitted to being a victim of the current political and social tension in Egypt. Esmail is bearded for religious reasons that have nothing to do with politics, yet he is called a “terrorist” or a “Muslim Brotherhood member” by random people in the streets. Some go as far as harassing him, even though he is anti the MB and their politics.
Hassan Abdelhameed, freelance writer, said that he was a victim of Egyptian ethnic jokes against those of color and Sa’idis, to whom he belongs. Many people ask him “Are you Egyptian?” which Abdelhameed hears on a daily basis because of his olive skin and his Upper Egyptian origin. The word Sa’idi means: from Sa’id which is the colloquial word for Upper Egypt. Sa’idis have had it worse when it comes to ethnic jokes. They are usually stereotyped as brainless, muscular people who use their guns all the time and wear funny looking turbans. Even though Upper Egypt lacks basic infrastructure and has been ignored in favor of main cities, many creative Egyptians have emerged from there including poet Amal Donkol, legendary actor Youssef Wahbi and pioneering feminist Huda Shaarawi.
Even as people stated their sad stories of racial, religious and sex-based aggressions, nobody thought of a solution. Most of the participants in this survey have predicted a gloomy future of a racially-fueled Egypt. Some even went as far as speculating civil wars and genocides if things stayed the way they are.
Only a secular constitution -all amended- would ensure equality and secure a hospitable environment for Egyptians.
By: Jaylan Salah