We are all Egyptian

9 Min Read

By Ahmed Kadry

I was born and raised in London and it was there that I lived in a society of different races, religions and cultures. If you ever find yourself on a rainy day in England’s capital city and jump onto a red bus to take you to your destination, take a look around you and look into the faces of your fellow passengers.

Now, if you are a Londoner, meaning that you were raised in the city, you will probably not notice anything special or peculiar. However, if you are an Egyptian, visiting a multicultural city for the very first time, the view from where you are standing should be overwhelming. Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Arabs, Europeans and of course the English, will all be staring right back at you.

Each and every one of them has deep rooted heritage to their home nations that are often different and in some circumstances, contradictory to that of their neighbors. Yet, all of them co-exist to achieve a common ambition, ignoring color and religion. That common ambition is the search for a tranquil and prosperous society that promotes achievement and success.

Prior to moving to Cairo in April 2009, in my eyes Egypt was only the birthplace of my parents and the country I visited whenever I had a school holiday. I remember looking forward to the sunny weather and splashing in swimming pools.

It was only after I moved here a little over eighteen months ago that I have begun to really understand this country and become aware of its social strengths and weaknesses. One of the ways that has helped me understand Egypt is my job. I am an English teacher at the British Council and it is through my work that I get to meet and build a bond with sixty Egyptians every eight weeks.

They of course come to learn and improve their English for a specific reason. Some of them need English to attain a better job or a job promotion, whilst others, inevitably, are seeking to immigrate to an English speaking country.

However, Egyptians are known for their openness and friendliness and through an eight week course I am able to socialize with my students during breaks or through enjoyable moments in the classroom and get to know them better, and they in turn get to know who their teacher is.

In many ways my broken Arabic and my upbringing in London render me an expatriate in Egypt despite my physical features and my family’s heritage being Egyptian. But with each passing day I spend here I become closer and closer to feeling fully integrated and each day is a lesson learnt.

Case in point: last week when I got into a white taxi. I always wave the taxi down, give them my destination, and if they give me a nod which I interpret as “Get in”, I proceed to do so. As a habit, I enter and say “Assalam wa Alykum”. Now, most of the time I usually get “Wa Alykum Asallam” as a reply.

However, last week the penny dropped. I got in and gave the usual greeting and the driver did not reply. I could not help feeling slightly strange but I soon ignored it and even forgot about it. I only remembered because the very next day it happened again. This time I could not shrug off the feeling as I had done the previous day and I looked around the taxi looking for a clue. The clue was not what I found but what I did not find. There were no dangling Islamic prayer beads hanging off the rear view mirror or Quran recitations from the CD player. The driver was a Christian.

The fact that the driver was a Christian should not be overwhelming. Coptic Christians make up approximately ten percent of Egypt’s population and are an integral part of all trades and businesses. The overwhelming fact that should be taken away from my experience is how easy it is to forget that ten percent of Egypt’s population has different religious views than the other ninety percent. A clear case of a majority and a minority.

This gets interesting when we look at the two groups side by side. In such a case, the minority tend to be entirely different than the majority, but Christians in Egypt mirror and resemble Muslim Egyptians in almost every way except religion, which is neither a physical attribute nor a cultural difference.

Yasser Toson is an Egyptian in his final year of studying Engineering at Cairo University and a former student of mine at the British Council. He illustrates things in practical terms when he explains, “We have the same traditions. Muslims don’t eat croissants at breakfast like the French and Christians don’t eat toast on butter like the British…all of us eat fuul and taamaya”.

When I stand in front of my classroom for the very time gazing at 20 new faces, it is impossible for me to guess which men are Muslims and which are Christians until I ask them their names. Similarly, unless a woman is wearing a hijab, I cannot differentiate the women either.

Furthermore, Muslim and Christian Egyptians share the same Arabic language and the Egyptian dialect. If I think back to London, I could be sitting in a cafe listening to a dozen or so languages spoken by British nationals.

The events on New Year’s Day in Alexandria were a tragedy for Egypt and humanity. Muslims all over the world as well as Egyptian Muslims have condemned the terrorist attack and jumped to assure Christian Egyptians that such an event is not representative of the Muslim majority, but rather the ugly and ignorant act of cowards who have shamed the very religion they thought they were promoting and spreading.

On the Jan. 6, 2011, on the eve of the most sacred and enjoyable day in the Coptic calendar, Christmas, Muslims sought out to show their solidarity with their countrymen by standing guard outside Churches all around the country whilst Christians attended Mass and recited their prayers. The event has been dubbed “The Human Shield”.

There is no doubt that such actions and demonstrations of solidarity are a step in the right direction to signal to the world that our society will not tolerate terrorism and religious hatred.

But let us remember London and the red bus. Egypt is not like England. Social unity should not be hard for a society that consists of only two main sects as opposed to the dozens of different sects we find in multicultural societies. In Eid, Muslims celebrate and in Christmas, Christians celebrate. However, we all celebrate Egyptian prosperity no matter what day it falls on.


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