Unveiling the Hidden Racial Prejudice: An In-depth Examination of Racism and Discrimination Against Black Africans in Egypt
Despite its vibrant history marked by the confluence of diverse racial and ethnic groups, Egypt’s societal landscape is marred by a deep-rooted racial bias against its African and Black communities. This prejudice is pervasive, cutting across various sectors, from housing displacement and unfair policies to negative representation in media, sports, and the educational system.
1. The Plight of the Nubian Community in Egypt:
• Displacement: The Nubians, a key ethnic minority in Egypt, were forcibly displaced from their ancestral Nile-side lands due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The pledges for their resettlement to these lands remain unfulfilled.
• Cultural and Linguistic Erosion: The unique Nubian culture and language are on the verge of fading due to the lack of recognition and support from the wider Egyptian society.
• Political Marginalization: The political representation of Nubians is scant, and their land rights are regularly disregarded.
• Discrimination: Nubians frequently face biased stereotypes and discrimination in various spheres of life, including employment and housing.
2. The Dispute Surrounding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD):
• Evasion During the Africa Leaders’ Meeting: The GERD issue was noticeably avoided by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry during a critical meeting of African leaders, which was seen as a deliberate disregard for an important African matter.
• Arab League Preference: Shoukry’s decision to discuss the GERD issue at the Arab League rather than an African platform was viewed as a slight to the African Union.
• Marginalization of the African Union: The Egyptian handling of the GERD issue seemed to diminish the African Union’s role and showed a lack of respect for African unity.
3. The Ordeal of African Students in Egypt:
• Discrimination and Harassment: African students in Egypt have reported instances of harassment and discrimination based on their skin color and nationality.
• Physical Assaults: There are documented instances of physical violence perpetrated against African students.
• Inadequate Response from Authorities: The Egyptian authorities often respond insufficiently to reported incidents of racial discrimination against African students.
• Activism: African students have begun campaigns to bring attention to their experiences and advocate for change.
4. The Controversy Over Depiction of Historical Figures:
• Casting Decisions: The decision to cast light-skinned actresses to portray historically darker-skinned figures like Queen Cleopatra, Umm Kulthum, and Pharaohs Akhenaten and Tutankhamun in Egyptian media has sparked debates about colorism and historical inaccuracies.
• Netflix Ban: The decision by Egypt to ban Netflix due to its casting of a biracial actress as Cleopatra has sparked international discussion about representation and the interpretation of history in popular culture.
5. Racial Bias in Football:
• Sudanese players were reportedly subjected to racial slurs from Egyptian spectators during an African Champions League match.
• African football players in Egypt have reported incidents of racial abuse and discrimination within their clubs.
• Inconsistent Enforcement: Football governing bodies often fail to consistently enforce rules against racism, fostering a culture of impunity.
6. Racial Discrimination in Egyptian Media:
• A number of Egyptian TV shows and films, including “Azmi we Ashgan,” “El-Kenz,” “Abu the Great,” and “El-Diesel,” have been criticized for their portrayal of black characters, thereby perpetuating harmful stereotypes and using blackface. This reflects deeper societal biases.
Moreover, recent criticisms have been leveled at the Egyptian authorities for disrupting the work of Dutch archaeologists in the Saqqara region. These archaeologists, who had been conducting their research there for over 15 years, were interrupted due to an exhibition at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities. The exhibition, “Kemit: Egypt in Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul, and Funk,” explored the influence of ancient Egypt on black musicians, an idea that the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities considered to be promoting “Afrocentrism” or what they described as a “historical falsification”.
The exhibition highlighted the influence of ancient Egyptian culture on artists such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Miles Davis. The Egyptian authorities accused the exhibition of distorting history, an allegation that the Dutch Museum strongly refuted, dismissing them as “baseless.” This controversy escalated when a local Egyptian archaeologist accused the Dutch Museum of endorsing Afrocentric theory, leading an Egyptian parliamentarian to question the government’s actions in “counteracting the distortion of Egyptian civilization”. Simultaneously, the museum reported receiving “racist and offensive” comments on social media since the exhibition’s launch.
The debate around racial bias in interpreting Egyptian history was further amplified when a black actress was cast as Queen Cleopatra in a Netflix series. Critics accused Netflix of “altering the ancient history of Egypt” and “distorting established historical data”. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities weighed in, asserting that Cleopatra had “Greek Hellenistic features, including light skin,” which added fuel to the controversy.
In the realm of employment, the treatment of Black Africans also demonstrates racial bias. A study conducted by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights found that Black African workers, especially those from Sub-Saharan countries, are often subjected to lower wages, longer working hours, and poorer working conditions compared to their peers. This systemic discrimination extends to these workers’ inability to access legal remedies due to language barriers and fear of retaliation.
Furthermore, in the public services sector, Black Africans often experience racial profiling and discriminatory treatment. In public transportation, for instance, they are often subjected to random searches and are sometimes even denied service. In healthcare, language barriers and racial bias often result in substandard treatment and lack of access to necessary services.
These examples underscore the widespread nature of racial discrimination against Black Africans in Egypt, revealing a pressing need for societal and systemic changes to counteract these deep-seated biases.
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