Television presenter Tamer Amin has sparked a storm of anger on social media with a racist story. "Sa'idi people [Egyptians from Upper Egypt] and farmers [peasants]," he said, "have a lot of children so they can work as servants." Amin is close to the regime in Egypt and tries to win favour at the expense of ordinary people, but this time it has backfired.
I am also an Egyptian citizen, born in the 1980s, and am convinced that to be an Egyptian and live in Egypt under this military rule is an affliction that I ask God to relieve us from. To be an Egyptian under the rule of Sisi and be a racist towards your own people, however, puts you in a very different position, because you are an affliction to others.
What Tamer Amin said was a crime against people who represent a majority of the population of Egypt, including those in Upper Egypt and the farmers in the villages. They are the bedrock of the Egyptian land, heritage and civilisation. The roots of many Egyptian families in the capital Cairo or Alexandria will be in rural areas or with those whom Amin called "peasants" in such a derogatory way.
The fact is, though, that Tamer Amin is not the only racist in Egypt. Many are the times that I have heard people make jokes about darker skinned Sa'idis on the bus or in the cafes or on the train. We all have. And we have all heard people from Cairo laugh at the accent of those from Alexandria, while the latter make fun of the looks and clothing of people from the countryside who visit in the summer. And middle class Egyptians, of course, describe the lower classes routinely as peasants.
We've all heard this, and laughed at it many, many times. We may even be guilty of it ourselves. One day someone jokes about you for being from a village, and then the next day, when you have a chance, you pay him back.
In 1998, the film Sa'idi was screened at the American University in Cairo, and was very successful. It was even said that the ticket receipts were more than for Titanic. I was in ninth grade at the time, and I remember that we started singing the main star Muhammad Henedy's song "Chocolate", in which he described a black girl in that movie. We sang that song whenever we saw a black girl or boy, and so did millions of other Egyptians. I also remember that a black classmate of mine at that time cried when the other students sang it to him. The name has stuck with him ever since.
The media and cinema entrenched the concept of racism in the minds of Egyptians, and there is a long history of crude stereotyping and incitement against certain groups. In TV and cinema, every black Egyptian or African is a doorman and his name is Othman, a character that the late actor Ali Kassar embodied for so long. Also, according to Egyptian media, Nubians are servants and gatekeepers; this is exactly how lawyer Mortada Mansour described footballer Ahmed Al-Mirghani live on air, and no one held him to account for it. All the people of small provinces are farmers as Tamer Amin described them, and this matter has become a cultural issue that is passed on from generation to generation and is fed largely by the media.
An Egyptian who is racist in response to media incitement is himself a victim of racism at the hands of regimes that treat him as their servant, with no right to life or opinions of their own. This person is also a victim of another, more cruel racism that he faces while trying to make a living in Arab and Gulf countries. You will find that those who are humiliated by a Saudi sponsor or a Jordanian parliamentarian are Egyptian workers, as if racism of the kind that we complain about as Muslims when it happens in Europe, is the acceptable norm among Arabs in our supposedly Islamic countries.
The first treatment for racism and cure for bullying has been given to us by the Almighty in the Holy Qur'an: "O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former)." The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: "People are as equal as the teeth of a comb. There is no difference to an Arab over a non-Arab except in piety."
We're still far from applying the principles of this Qur'anic verse and saying of the Prophet. Instead, we are left with tears and pain caused by the disease of racism and bullying among the people of the same nation. It's time for it to stop.
Translated from Arabi21, 21 February 2021, and edited for MEMO.
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