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Topic of the Issue
The Egyptian Identity: Pharoahs, Moslems, Arabs, Africans, Middle Easterners or Mediterranean People?
Sunday, February 15 (Issue 3)
by Raymon Kondos

CAIRO (youregypt.com) - Who are Egyptians? The simple answer would be like that:
Egyptians are descendants of Pharaohs. Egypt which has a majority of Moslems is located in the African continent and speaks Arabic as a native language. Egypt is also at the heart of the Middle East and lies on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile Valley
Scene from the Nile Valley,
where Ancient Egyptian settled

Certainly history has another story to tell!

The Ancient Egyptian civilization evolved about 7000 years ago in the Nile Valley, the most fertile part in the barren deserts of North Africa.
Ancient Egyptians are known to be descending from Eastern Hamitic origins. Early Egyptians were pagans. They spoke Hieroglyphics, which is considered a Hamito-Semitic language.

For several later centuries, Ancient Egypt relatively maintained its special identity, even with several infiltrations of other elements from each of the four directions.
At some eras, Asiatics infiltrated from the east, made their own dynasties and intermarried with Egyptians. Libyans in the west also made regular infiltrations and succeeded to rule Egypt at some eras. So did Nubians in the south near the end of the Pharaonic dynasties, which gave Egypt a black trait at some times.

At the end of the Pharaonic era, Assyrians from Mesopotamia and their Persian foes conquered Egypt but without mingling much in the society.

It was the Greek culture that had its biggest effect on the Egyptian society at that time.
Following the foundation of Alexandria in the 4th century BC, the Hellenic culture started to sweep the entire country, especially during the Ptolemaic Dynasty, a line of Macedonian Kings that took over the rule of Egypt.

For the first time, Egypt’s capital, now Alexandria, is built on the Mediterranean Sea. Scholars from all over the Mediterranean world started to flock to Alexandria, which became the world’s center of learning particularly after the establishment of the famous Alexandrian Library a.k.a. Bibliotheca Alexandria.

Egyptians from their side, wanted to protect their identity and language from the new tide of sweeping culture. As a result, the Coptic language was developed to resist the social changes in Egypt. The new language was derived from Hieroglyphics, adopted its very same phonetics, yet borrowed its new letters from the Greek Alphabet, with new additions of 6-8 letters uniquely spoken by Egyptians.
The last Hieroglyphics writing was traced in the 5th century AD.

The Roman invasion of Egypt was another turning point for Egyptians, who at first shared their invaders the pagan worship.

Yet after Egypt’s smooth embracement of Christianity, the social mingling between Egyptians and Romans became nearly impossible, also because of the notorious Roman persecution of Christians in the Mediterranean.

By the time, Arabs invaded Egypt in 641 AD, all Egyptians became theoretically Christians, or better saying Copts.
Initially the Arab conquerors were tolerant. They allowed Copts to keep their language and religion.

By time, Egyptians started to embrace Islam whether because of persecution, aspiration for better conditions or out of convincement.
The social result of that were intermarriages between Egyptians and Arabs coming from the Arabian Peninsula.

While the entire Egypt smoothly started to adopt the Arabic language, because at particular times, its learning was a must for getting jobs, intermarriage with Arab Semitic stock remained limited because the conquering Arabs were in fact by far less in number that native Egyptians.

Throughout Islamic history, several foreign forces conquered and ruled Egypt like Turkic elements, but it was difficult for them to change the unique identity which the Egyptians acquired and made special.

The social and ethnic infiltration was even more impossible with Western colonization of Egypt by whether the French or the British.

Nowadays, Modern Egyptian scholars try to escape accusations of anti-Semitism by claiming that Egyptians –who are also belonging to the Arab nation- are Semitic too.
The fact is that Egyptians remain in their majority Hamitics, even if they speak Arabic, a Semitic language.

Hence, the answer to the previous question about identity is that Egyptians now, whatever their look, are a mix of all attributes they acquired during their long history, and whatever changes affected Egyptians, they succeeded to make their identity different and genuine from the surrounding world.

PREVIOUS TOPICS:
. Food Habits in Egyptian Key Events (issue 1)
. Egyptian Matrimony: Man Got to Do it All (issue 2)

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