A Message to the African Union by Asrat Birhanu
To: All Africans and AfricanUnion
Here are some examples that underscore why Egypt is often perceived as one of the most racially discriminatory countries in Africa, particularly against black Africans, and disrespectful towards the AfricanUnion:
- The treatment of Nubians, an ethnic minority in Egypt,
1.1. Forced Displacement: One of the most significant issues faced by Nubians in Egypt is forced displacement. The construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s led to the flooding of their ancestral lands along the Nile, causing widespread displacement of Nubian communities. The Egyptian government relocated them to settlements often far removed from the Nile, a river central to Nubian culture and livelihood. Despite promises of a right to return, many Nubians remain unable to reclaim their ancestral lands.
1.2. Cultural Erasure: Nubians in Egypt have faced significant challenges in preserving their culture and language. The Nubian language is experiencing a decline, particularly among younger generations, due to the lack of formal education in the language. Furthermore, Nubian history and culture are often marginalized or overlooked in mainstream Egyptian society, contributing to a sense of cultural erasure.
1.3. Political Marginalization: Nubians have been politically marginalized in Egypt. They are underrepresented in government and face discriminatory laws that limit their rights to own land and live in their ancestral regions. Despite the 2014 Egyptian constitution recognizing Nubians’ right to return to their ancestral lands, implementation has been slow and fraught with challenges.
1.4. Discrimination and Racism: Nubians in Egypt often face discrimination and racism. They are sometimes stereotyped as being primitive or backward, and they face discrimination in various forms, including in employment and housing. There have also been reports of Nubians being subjected to racial slurs and derogatory comments.
- The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue: The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue and Egypt’s handling of it, particularly by its Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, serves as a stark example of the deep-seated disregard for African solidarity that exist within government. Here’s a more detailed examination of the incident:
2.1. The African Leaders’ Meeting: On February 8th, 2023, a significant meeting of African leaders took place, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in attendance. This meeting was expected to address various issues of importance to the African continent, Shoukry chose to sidestep the GERD issue at this meeting, a decision perceived by many as a calculated evasion of a critical issue affecting numerous African nations, particularly those in the Nile Basin.
2.2. Diverting the GERD Issue to the Arab League: Instead of addressing the GERD issue within the African context, Shoukry brought it to the Arab League’s agenda for the second time this year. This move was widely interpreted as an attempt to assert dominance over the Nile River and maintain control over its waters, reflecting an outdated colonial mentality and adherence to colonial-era agreements.
2.3. The Arab League Summit Resolution: The Arab League Summit further solidified the stance against the GERD with a resolution presumably supported by Egypt. This resolution was seen as a direct affront to the African Union and its member states, as the GERD issue involves an African river and is therefore intrinsically relevant to African countries.
2.4. Disregard for the African Union: Egypt’s actions were viewed as a blatant show of disrespect towards the African Union and its members. By circumventing the African Union and instead discussing the GERD issue at the Arab League, Egypt was seen as undermining the African Union’s role in addressing issues pertinent to the African continent.
- Treatment of African Students: The treatment of African students in Egypt has been a subject of concern, with numerous reports indicating instances of discrimination and racism. These incidents highlight a deeper issue of racial prejudice against black people and Africans in the country. Here’s a more detailed examination of the incidents:
3.1. Discrimination and Harassment: African students in Egypt have reported experiencing discrimination and harassment based on their skin color or nationality. This has manifested in various ways, from being denied housing to facing public harassment. The experiences shared by these students paint a picture of a society where racial prejudices and stereotypes can influence everyday interactions.
3.2. Physical Assaults: More disturbingly, there have been instances of physical violence against African students. In 2019, a video circulated on social media showing a group of men, reportedly Egyptian, physically assaulting three African women in Cairo. The incident sparked outrage, with many condemning the attack as a clear act of racism. Despite the public outcry, there were no reports of any legal action taken against the perpetrators, raising concerns about the lack of accountability for such acts.
3.3. Inadequate Response from Authorities: A 2020 report by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies highlighted the discrimination faced by African students in Egypt. The report found that African students were often subjected to racial slurs and physical attacks, and that the Egyptian authorities often failed to adequately address these incidents. This lack of response from the authorities can contribute to a climate of impunity, where perpetrators of racial violence are not held accountable.
3.4. Activism and Calls for Change: In response to these challenges, a group of African students in Egypt launched a campaign in 2021 to raise awareness about the discrimination they faced. The students shared their experiences of being subjected to racial slurs, physical attacks, and discrimination in housing and employment. The campaign gained significant attention on social media and led to calls for the Egyptian government to take action.
- Controversy over the portrayal of historical figures: The portrayal of historical figures in Egyptian media and popular culture has been a subject of controversy, particularly when it comes to the casting of actors of different racial backgrounds. This issue raises important questions about representation, colorism, and the interpretation of history in popular culture. Here are some detailed examples:
4.1. Cleopatra Controversy: In 2023, a decision to cast a light-skinned actress in the lead role for an Egyptian TV series about the life of Queen Cleopatra sparked significant backlash. Critics argued that the casting decision was an example of colorism, a prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. They contended that the decision did not accurately represent Cleopatra’s likely darker skin tone, given her Macedonian Greek and potentially mixed heritage.
4.2. Umm Kulthum Controversy: In 2017, controversy arose over the casting of a lighter-skinned actress to play the role of the famous Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum in a TV series. Critics argued that the casting decision reflected a societal bias towards lighter skin and ignored Umm Kulthum’s Nubian heritage. Umm Kulthum, often referred to as the Star of the East, was known to have a darker skin tone, and critics argued that the casting decision was not true to historical facts.
4.3. Akhenaten Controversy: In 2020, an Egyptian TV series about the life of the Pharaoh Akhenaten faced backlash for casting a light-skinned actor in the lead role. Akhenaten, an 18th dynasty pharaoh, was likely to have had a darker skin tone, given the racial characteristics of ancient Egyptians. Critics argued that the casting decision was an example of colorism and did not accurately represent the historical figure’s likely darker skin tone.
4.4. Tutankhamun Controversy: In 2021, an Egyptian film about the life of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun also faced backlash for casting a light-skinned actor in the lead role. Tutankhamun, often referred to as King Tut, was an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, and like Akhenaten, was likely to have had a darker skin tone. Critics argued that the casting decision was an example of colorism and did not accurately represent the historical figure’s likely darker skin tone.
4.5. Netflix Ban Over Cleopatra Casting: A decision to cast a biracial actress as Cleopatra in an upcoming Netflix production led to the service being banned in Egypt. This decision could be seen as resistance to the portrayal of historical figures by actors of different racial backgrounds. It sparked international debate about representation and the interpretation of history in popular culture.
- The incident during the African Champions League: Football, a sport that is widely loved and followed in Egypt, has unfortunately been a platform where instances of racism against black people and Africans have been reported. These incidents highlight a deeper issue of racial prejudice within the country. Here’s a more detailed examination:
5.1. African Champions League Incident: During a match in the African Champions League between Egypt’s Al-Ahly and Sudan’s Al-Hilal, some Egyptian spectators reportedly directed racially charged chants and offensive speeches toward the Al-Hilal players and the Sudanese people. This incident sparked outrage and led to calls for action to address racism in Egyptian football. Critics argued that such behavior was indicative of a deeper issue of racial prejudice against black people and Africans in Egypt.
5.2. Racial Abuse of Players: There have been several reported instances where African football players have been subjected to racial abuse during matches in Egypt. This abuse often takes the form of derogatory chants or comments from spectators. Such incidents not only affect the players involved but also tarnish the image of the sport and the spirit of fair play.
5.3. Discrimination within Clubs:Some African players have reported facing discrimination within their football clubs in Egypt. This discrimination can take various forms, including unequal pay, limited opportunities, and differential treatment compared to non-African players. These experiences highlight the systemic nature of racism in football.
5.4. Lack of Accountability:Despite the prevalence of these incidents, there is often a lack of accountability for racism in Egyptian football. While football’s governing bodies have rules against racism, enforcement can be inconsistent. This lack of accountability can contribute to a culture of impunity, where racism is tolerated or ignored.
5.5. Impact on African Footballers:The racism faced by African footballers in Egypt can have a significant impact on their careers and wellbeing. It can affect their performance, mental health, and their willingness to continue playing in the country. This not only harms the players themselves but also affects the diversity and quality of Egyptian football.
- Racism in Media:The portrayal of black people and Africans in Egyptian media has been a subject of controversy, with numerous instances of harmful stereotypes and racist tropes being perpetuated. These incidents highlight a deeper issue of racial prejudice in the country. Here’s a more detailed examination of the incidents:
5.1. “Azmi we Ashgan” Controversy:In 2018, an Egyptian TV show called “Azmi we Ashgan” faced severe backlash for an episode in which actors wore blackface and portrayed Sudanese people in a derogatory manner. The episode was widely criticized for promoting harmful stereotypes and for its racist depiction of Sudanese people. Despite the backlash, the show continued to air, raising concerns about the acceptance of such portrayals in Egyptian media.
5.2. “El-Kenz” Controversy:In 2017, an Egyptian film “El-Kenz” (The Treasure) faced criticism for its portrayal of black people. The film depicted black people as servants and slaves in a historical context, which many critics argued perpetuated harmful stereotypes. Despite the controversy, the film was a commercial success, leading to further discussions about the portrayal of race in Egyptian media and the societal attitudes that such portrayals reflect.
5.3. “Abu the Great” Controversy:In 2019, a popular Egyptian TV show, “Abu the Great” faced backlash for its portrayal of black characters. The show featured a black character who was portrayed as a servant and was often the butt of jokes. Critics argued that the character was a racist stereotype and that the show was perpetuating harmful attitudes towards black people.
5.4. “El-Diesel” Controversy:In 2020, an Egyptian film “El-Diesel” was criticized for its portrayal of a black character. The character was depicted as a criminal and was played by an actor in blackface, which many critics argued was a racist stereotype. Despite the controversy, the film was one of the highest-grossing Egyptian films of the year, raising questions about the societal attitudes that allow such portrayals to be commercially successful.
- The Atlanta Black Star report: This report suggests that there is a level of hostility towards Black people in Egypt. The treatment of black people and Africans in Egypt, particularly in the context of football and broader society, has been a subject of concern, with numerous reports indicating instances of discrimination and racism. Here’s a more detailed examination of the incidents:
6.1. Atlanta Black Star Report and Reuters Article: According to a report by the Atlanta Black Star and an article by Reuters reporter Cynthia Johnston, migrant workers from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Sudan, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad have reportedly suffered daily abuse at the hands of Egyptian Arabs. This abuse has taken various forms, from verbal harassment and derogatory language to physical attacks, including being stoned, spat on, and even stabbed. These reports suggest a level of hostility towards black people and Africans in Egypt that is deeply concerning.
6.2. 2005 Sudanese Refugee Incident:In December 2005, Egyptian riot police brutally attacked a camp of Sudanese refugees in Cairo who were protesting their treatment. At least 23 refugees were killed, and hundreds of others were injured, arrested, imprisoned, or deported. The incident was widely reported in the media, but there was little public protest in Egypt, raising questions about societal attitudes towards refugees and black people.
6.3. Verbal Harassment and Negative Language: Black Africans in Egypt have reported experiencing verbal harassment and negative language. They have been subjected to racial slurs and derogatory comments, both in the streets and during football matches. This behavior contributes to a hostile environment for black people and Africans in Egypt.
6.4. Discrimination Against Nubians:Nubians, who are among the indigenous inhabitants of what is now considered modern Egypt, have also faced discrimination based on skin color. For example, Nada Zeitoun, a Nubian filmmaker from the upper Egyptian city of Aswan, was reportedly denied service at a pharmacy in central Cairo in 2013 because the pharmacist said he “didn’t accept money from Black hands.”
6.5. Random Identity Checks and Arbitrary Roundups: Black people in Egypt have reportedly been subjected to random identity checks and arbitrary roundups based on their skin color. This discriminatory treatment by law enforcement officials further contributes to a climate of fear and hostility.
- The cancellation of Kevin Hart’s show: The cancellation of Kevin Hart’s show in Egypt serves as a significant example of the deep-seated racial sensitivities and controversies surrounding the interpretation of African history in the country. Here’s a more detailed examination of the incident:
7.1. Kevin Hart’s Comments: Kevin Hart, a renowned American comedian, made comments suggesting that modern Egyptians were “thieves of the ancient Egyptian civilization that was built at the hands of Africans.” This statement sparked controversy in Egypt, as it was perceived as a challenge to the commonly held belief that ancient Egyptians are the ancestors of modern Egyptians.
7.2. Debate on Ancient Egyptian Civilization: Hart’s comments ignited a broader debate about the racial identity of the ancient Egyptians. Some scholars and activists argue that ancient Egyptians were black Africans and that their achievements have been appropriated by non-African cultures. On the other hand, many modern Egyptians see ancient Egyptians as a distinct civilization that is an integral part of their national heritage.
7.3. Reaction and Consequences: The reaction to Hart’s comments in Egypt illustrates the sensitivity of this issue. His show was cancelled, and he was reportedly banned from performing in the country. This incident raises questions about freedom of speech and the acceptance of different perspectives on history in Egypt.
7.4. Implications for Discussions on Race and History: The controversy surrounding Hart’s comments highlights the challenges of discussing race and history.
8.Treatment of refugees and migrants: The treatment of refugees and migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa, in Egypt has been a subject of concern, with numerous reports indicating instances of discrimination, abuse, and even violence. Here’s a more detailed examination of the issues:
8.1. Legal Status and Documentation:Many refugees and migrants in Egypt face significant challenges in obtaining legal status and documentation. Without these, they are vulnerable to detention and deportation and have limited access to employment, education, and healthcare. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) collaborates with the Egyptian government to register refugees, but the process can be slow, complex, and fraught with bureaucratic hurdles.
8.2. Xenophobia and Discrimination:Refugees and migrants in Egypt encounter xenophobia and discrimination. This can manifest in various forms, from verbal harassment and racial slurs to physical violence, negative stereotypes and misinformation about refugees and migrants have been perpetuated in the media, contributing to a climate of hostility and prejudice.
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