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The Pharaonist movement, or Pharaonism, is an ideology that rose to prominence in Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s. It looked to Egypt's pre-Islamic past and argued that Egypt was part of a larger Mediterranean civilization. This ideology stressed the role of the Nile River and the Mediterranean Sea. Pharaonism's most notable advocate was Taha Hussein.


  • Egyptian identity 1
  • Nationalism 2
  • Arab identity 3
  • Critics 4
  • Copts 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7

Egyptian identity

Egyptian identity since the Iron Age Egyptian Empire evolved for the longest period under the influence of native Egyptian culture, religion and identity (see Ancient Egypt). The Egyptians came subsequently under the influence of brief successions of foreign rulers including Berbers, Nubians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks, French and British. Under these foreign rulers, the Egyptians accommodated two new religions, Christianity and Islam, and produced a new language, Egyptian Arabic.


Questions of identity came to the fore in the 20th century as Egyptians sought to free themselves from British occupation, leading to the rise of ethno-territorial secular Egyptian nationalism (also known as "Pharaonism"). Pharaonism became the dominant mode of expression of Egyptian anti-colonial activists of the pre- and inter-war periods:

In 1931, following a visit to Egypt, Syrian Arab nationalist Sati' al-Husri remarked that "[Egyptians] did not possess an Arab nationalist sentiment; did not accept that Egypt was a part of the Arab lands, and would not acknowledge that the Egyptian people were part of the Arab nation."[2] The later 1930s would become a formative period for Arab nationalism in Egypt, in large part due to efforts by Syrian/Palestinian/Lebanese intellectuals.[3] Nevertheless, a year after the establishment of the League of Arab States in 1945, to be headquartered in Cairo, Oxford University historian H. S. Deighton was still writing:

One of the most prominent Egyptian nationalists and anti-Arabists was Egypt's most notable writer of the 20th century, Taha Hussein. He expressed his disagreement with Arab unity and his beliefs in Egyptian nationalism on multiple occasions. In one of his most well known articles, written in 1933 in the magazine Kawkab el Sharq, he wrote saying:

It has been argued that until the 1940s, Egypt was more in favour of territorial, Egyptian nationalism and distant from the pan-Arab ideology. Egyptians generally did not identify themselves as Arabs, and it is revealing that when the Egyptian nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul met the Arab delegates at Versailles in 1918, he insisted that their struggles for statehood were not connected, claiming that the problem of Egypt was an Egyptian problem and not an Arab one.[6]

Arab identity

However, Egypt under King Farouk was a founding member of the Arab League in 1945, and the first Arab state to declare war in support of the Palestinians in the Palestine War of 1948. This Arab nationalist sentiment increased exponentially after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. The primary leaders of the Revolution, Muhammad Naguib, and Gamal Abdel Nasser, were staunch Arab nationalists who stressed that pride in Egypt's individual indigenous identity was entirely consistent with pride in an overarching Arab cultural identity. It was during Naguib's tenure as leader that Egypt adopted the Arab Liberation Flag to symbolise the country's links to the rest of the Arab World.

For a while Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic. When the union was dissolved, Egypt continued to be known as the UAR until 1971, when Egypt adopted the current official name, the Arab Republic of Egypt.[7] The Egyptians' attachment to Arabism, however, was particularly questioned after the 1967 Six-Day War. Thousands of Egyptians had lost their lives and the country became disillusioned with Pan-Arab politics.[8] Nasser's successor Anwar Al Sadat, both through public policy and his peace initiative with Israel, revived an uncontested Egyptian orientation, unequivocally asserting that only Egypt and Egyptians were his responsibility. The terms "Arab," "Arabism," and "Arab unity," save for the new official name, became conspicuously absent.[9] (See also Liberal age and Republic sections.)

Although the overwhelming majority of Egyptians today continue to self-identify as Arabs in a cultural sense, a minority reject this, pointing to the failures of Arab and pan-Arab nationalist policies, and even publicly voicing objection to the present official name of the country.

In late 2007, el-Masri el-Yom daily newspaper conducted an interview at a bus stop in the working-class district of Imbaba to ask citizens what Arab nationalism (el-qawmeyya el-'arabeyya) represented for them. One Egyptian Muslim youth responded, "Arab nationalism means that the Egyptian Foreign Minister in Jerusalem gets humiliated by the Palestinians, that Arab leaders dance upon hearing of Sadat's death, that Egyptians get humiliated in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and of course that Arab countries get to fight Israel until the last Egyptian soldier."[10] Another felt that,"Arab countries hate Egyptians", and that unity with Israel may even be more of a possibility than Arab nationalism, because he believes that Israelis would at least respect Egyptians.[10]

Some contemporary prominent Egyptians who oppose Arab nationalism or the idea that Egyptians are Arabs include Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass,[11] popular writer Osama Anwar Okasha, Egyptian-born Harvard University Professor Leila Ahmed, Member of Parliament Suzie Greiss,[12] in addition to different local groups and intellectuals.[13] This understanding is also expressed in other contexts,[14][15] such as Neil DeRosa's novel Joseph's Seed in his depiction of an Egyptian character "who declares that Egyptians are not Arabs and never will be."[16]


Egyptian critics of Arab nationalism contend that it has worked to erode and/or relegate native Egyptian identity by superimposing only one aspect of Egypt's culture. These views and sources for collective identification in the Egyptian state are captured in the words of a linguistic anthropologist who conducted fieldwork in Cairo:


Many Coptic intellectuals hold to a version of Pharaonism which states that Coptic culture is largely derived from pre-Christian, Pharaonic culture, and is not indebted to Greece. It gives the Copts a claim to a deep heritage in Egyptian history and culture. Pharaonism was widely held by Coptic and Muslim scholars in the early 20th century, and it helped bridge the divide between those groups. Most scholars today see Pharaonism as a late development shaped primarily by western Orientalism, and they doubt its validity.[18][19]

See also


  1. ^ Jankowski, James. "Egypt and Early Arab Nationalism" in Rashid Khalidi, ed. The Origins of Arab Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, pp. 244–45
  2. ^ Quoted in Dawisha 2003, p. 99
  3. ^ Jankowski, "Egypt and Early Arab Nationalism", p. 246
  4. ^ Deighton, H. S. "The Arab Middle East and the Modern World", International Affairs, vol. xxii, no. 4 (October 1946), p. 519.
  5. ^ Taha Hussein, "Kwakab el Sharq", August 12th 1933: إن الفرعونية متأصلة فى نفوس المصريين ، وستبقى كذلك بل يجب أن تبقى وتقوى ، والمصرى فرعونى قبل أن يكون عربياً ولا يطلب من مصر أن تتخلى عن فرعونيتها وإلا كان معنى ذلك : اهدمى يا مصر أبا الهول والأهرام، وانسى نفسك واتبعينا ... لا تطلبوا من مصر أكثر مما تستطيع أن تعطى ، مصر لن تدخل فى وحدة عربية سواء كانت العاصمة القاهرة أم دمشق أم بغداد
  6. ^ Makropoulou, Ifigenia. Pan-Arabism: What Destroyed the Ideology of Arab Nationalism?. Hellenic Center for European Studies. January 15, 2007.
  7. ^ "1971 – Egypt's new constitution is introduced and the country is renamed the Arab Republic of Egypt." Timeline Egypt. BBC News, Timeline: Egypt
  8. ^ Dawisha 2003, p. 237
  9. ^ Dawisha 2003, pp. 264–65, 267
  10. ^ a b Ragab, Ahmed. El-Masry el-Yom Newspaper. "What is the definition of 'Arab Nationalism': Question at a bus stop in Imbaba". May 21, 2007.
  11. ^ In response to queries about Tutankhamun in a recent lecture, Hawass declared "Egyptians are not Arabs..." "Tutankhamun was not black: Egypt antiquities chief". AFP. Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  12. ^ An Interculturalist in Cairo. InterCultures Magazine. January 2007.
  13. ^ We are Egyptians, not Arabs. 11/06.2003.
  14. ^ Egyptian people section from Arab.Net
  15. ^ Princeton Alumni Weekly
  16. ^ Review by Michelle Fram Cohen. The Atlasphere. January 17, 2005.
  17. ^ Haeri, Niloofar. Sacred language, Ordinary People: Dilemmas of Culture and Politics in Egypt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2003, pp. 47, 136.
  18. ^  
  19. ^  
  • Dawisha, Adeed (2003). Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press. 
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