Belonging to Something Bigger: My Take On Nationalism
“Who am I?” is a recurring question that triggers a lot of thinking. When asked, I always identify myself as Egyptian, Middle Eastern/North African Mediterranean Arab. Being from an ancient centrally located country that has been a melting pot between Africa, Asia and Europe makes it harder to specifically label yourself. Well for starters the most solid answer is saying you’re Egyptian. However, what does Egyptian mean?
Historically, Egypt as a country started when Narmer the first pharaoh of the First Dynasty unified Lower and Upper Egypt around 3100 BC. The land largely remained under Egyptian rule more than 2000 years until it was invaded by the Persians who ruled it for over 300 years. Alexander the Great then defeated the Persians and Hellenistic Egypt came to existence. Almost 300 year later, this period came to an end with Cleopatra’s death and Egypt becoming a province of the Roman Empire for more than 600 years. The Muslim invasion from the Arabian Peninsula followed, lasting for more than 900 years. Ottoman rule followed until the 1800 with a brief French invasion and followed by a British occupation and becoming a protectorate until independence in 1954.
What this history means to me is that there is no such thing as being fully Egyptian. Being Egyptian entails the cultural mix that resulted from these extended exposures to various cultures from Asia, Europe and Africa. The result is a feeling of belonging to a broader region. Yes, there is a local culture that is unique due to the specific events and people but you can always trace it to something bigger and older.
Over the years, people from every corner of the world passed through the country or settled. Some chose to marry locals and started families. Families that became bridges between different cultures. They grew up Egyptian but always remembered they have Turkish, Greek, French, etc family members and didn’t forget about this part of their culture. Now with the downward spiral we have been witnessing, most people left. As they left, people became less exposed and all sorts of tolerance suffered.
Accordingly, I never grasped how ideas of nationalism and racism gain traction in countries with a great history and culture. It is literally hating what made these countries great in the first place. It is beyond my comprehension how the idea of happening to be born in a certain location –which has nothing to do with the individual- can push people to be hateful of others. Others who happen to be born elsewhere and look differently. Especially, if they look around, they will realize that most of the modern comforts of life are a result of the world opening and people moving around. It is good to be proud of your culture and heritage, but this culture will never be perfect. Opening your mind and heart to others and their cultures is what makes you a better human and this is how we are intrigued to question and learn.
Although the current political and social circumstances do not look promising, I choose to be hopeful and work towards a more open and humane world community.