Since the downfall of Hosni Mubarak and the dissolution of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Egyptians started being introduced to a handful of new political parties, ideologies and different kinds of political debates after an era of tyranny lead by the rule of the NDP along with a nonexistent opposition whose sole purpose was to give the world as well as Egyptians the notion that Egypt is a democratic state. During Mubarak’s time I have witnessed a lot of legislation aiming to end some traditions such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or to increase women’s participation in the political life but it is a fact that those legislation never made any actual change in our society except for being some new laws. They simply were not effective as they were never supported by the majority of the people who lacked knowledge due to the ruling party that intentionally never gave much attention to education or awareness campaigns. Egypt’s political situation is extremely unpredictable, but it is fairly easy to predict the consequences of any legislation when it comes down to social norms.
Since the Muslim Brotherhood won the majority in the parliament’s two chambers and the presidency thus, the government as well, they started taking control over the judiciary, prosecution and local authorities by appointing governors from the MB following the NDP’s policies on the domestic as well as the foreign level. The supporters of the political Islamic ideology from both the MB and Salafi groups who took over the constituent assembly thought that it would be normal for them to force their view of social norms on all Egyptians just like the NDP did, disregarding the NDP’s failure as they depended on their use of religion to affect the people. Article 10 from the final draft of the constitution – that is currently being voted upon – states that “The State and society are keen to preserve the genuine character of the Egyptian family, its cohesion and stability, and to protect its moral values, all as regulated by law.” The article raises many questions such as, what is the “genuine character of the Egyptian family”? Why and how can “the society” be keen to preserve this genuine character?
The Islamists’ endeavors to monotonize the Egyptian society have started long ago, but now as they have gained the legislative power they started pushing further to reach their goal, while not realizing the high diversity of cultures existing in Egypt, whether it is the diversity within Muslims or other religious and ethnic groups.
The diversity in Egypt goes back in history to ancient Egyptians who left us a heritage of food, celebrations and traditions that still exist to this day. For example, many of the words we use today in our Egyptian dialects were taken from ancient Egyptian, Coptic, Greek, Turkish, Latin, French and English due to the several occupations we have been through and we ended up making up our own combination of all cultures. Even Egyptians themselves might not know much about the differences between Upper Egypt (South of Egypt), the Delta region (North of Egypt), Bedouins in Sinai, Nubians and Nomads in the oasis of the western desert.
Since the majority of the population in Egypt is concentrated on the Nile River, it would be interesting to take a deeper look on the “genuine character” of Egyptians. In Upper Egypt, the shisha (water pipe) is a feminine thing as men don’t smoke it while in the Delta region it is a masculine thing and it is abnormal for a woman to smoke it and when women started smoking water pipes it was considered as a “foreign trend”. In the Delta region it is totally normal for a man to beat his wife while in Upper Egypt a man is not considered “a man” anymore if he laid his hand on a woman. The oldest woman in the family in many parts of Upper Egypt is the one taking decisions for the family and no man can argue with her while in the Delta region women cannot interfere when the man of the family makes a decision. Even when it comes to inheritance, almost in all agricultural cities, women in any given family inherit money but they are prohibited from inheriting land in order not to pass the land to another family which actually might stand against the “Shari’a law” but they do have their own social norms that have nothing to do with religion. Those were just a few examples on gender roles in some parts showing two different worlds within Egypt.
Since the military took over Egypt in 1952, Nubians have been facing an intentional destruction to their culture in an attempt to monotonize Egypt. Their land was destroyed after building the dam, their tribes were divided between Egypt and Sudan, the Nubian culture is never mentioned in schools’ curricula and basically they are not considered Egyptians. The MB leader Essam ElErian took it to a whole new level in one of his articles when he stressed on how Egypt is an Arab state, he wrote “There were many attempts to occupy Egypt by the Hyksos, Persians, Romans and Nubians but Egyptians accepted Arabs and Islam” which shows how the MB are carrying on The military’s legacy of destroying the diversity of cultures in Egypt.
The Salafis or to be specific, the Wahabis who are considered the ultra-orthodox Muslims never had any real influence in Egypt until thousands of Egyptians started returning from Saudi Arabia in the 80’s and 90’s carrying on the Bedouin culture of the Wahabis after they conformed to the society in order to feel a sense of belonging there and with the financial support of the oil rich country they started thriving in Egypt. Wahabis have been used by Mubarak’s regime as well as the MB to scare the people from a strict Islamic rule and lure them to support the NDP instead. The regime had control over them, which we have witnessed during the beginning of the revolution when Salafi leaders supported Mubarak and the MB started negotiating deals with the NDP as usual after not taking part in the first week of protests. We reached a point where Salafis sat with the MB leaders and wrote the constitution, adding the part about the society being keen on preserving the “genuine character” of Egyptian families, paving the road for the Saudi Arabian invention the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) – which is used in KSA to oppress the people – to be applied in Egypt. Many cases have aroused because of groups in Egypt claiming to be an organized CPVPV such as Ahmed Eid who was murdered in Suez for standing with a girl alone, they have beaten him to death after he stood up against them when they interfered. However, in another case in Kalyoubeyya, girls who worked in a hair salon have beaten a group of bearded men who asked them to stop working there claiming to be with the CPVPV.
Currently, despite the turmoil and the extreme political polarization that we Egyptians are going through, Egypt still has hundreds of groups with different social and political backgrounds who will never be affected by the propaganda lead by any ruling party whether they use religion or not. The struggle for a better constitution, better education and healthcare continues as it is obvious that the revolution never ended and it is impossible to change a country like Egypt in 18 days as many people claim. It may take us a decade, but as far as Egypt’s future goes, despite whatever happens with politics no one will ever succeed in forcing one social norm on Egyptians.