Three observations from Egypt before regular blogging commences again:
- Having spent some time in Siwa and having had conversations with many people there, one sees results from the Berber-language television broadcasts initiated by Algerian state TV, which started earlier this year: I was told by several Siwis that they were proud to see “Siwi” or Tamazight on television, even if they could not understand all of it, because they did not imagine that such things were possible. Those who watch Algerian TV by satellite almost uniformly said that seeing Berber on television gave them some level of pride in their own language. How pervasive this attitude is was not clear to me, but it seemed fairly common. There are no political ramifications for Algeria’s grand strategy in this regard, but it may contribute to strengthening Berber identification in Siwa, which is fairly strong anyhow. There are many Siwis, though, who do not seem to be aware that other Berber languages are in wide proliferation elsewhere in North Africa and those who are aware and not generally politicized in the way that Moroccan or Algerian Berbers often are. Many Siwis grumble that they do not feel that teaching Siwi or Coptic should be prohibited (as it currently is), because “Siwi is simple”, but they do not see Arabic as a hindrance to their advancement.
- Egypt’s galabeya/jalabaya culture is especially interesting, especially when viewed from a perspective that includes class. In light of proposals for legislation that would make the galabeya Egypt’s national dress (I was amused by the potential for a galabeya politics), I became especially conscious of how men in galabeyas operated in parts of Cairo. In some ways this is all together different from the contrast between traditional and “modern” clothing in other Arab countries in North Africa, where Western clothing almost completely dominates mens fashions, across social lines. One hardly even finds traditional clothes on men in rural areas in Algeria or Tunisia (at least not in a comprehensive way; one finds traditional over coats but not usually full outfits; such things are reserved mostly for formalities). Dress marks one’s social standing and very often dictates how a person will be treated and addressed by others. A man in a galabeya is `am or hagg (hadj), not ustadh (the ustadh wears pants) or sayyid. To use one of the latter terms for a fellow in a galabeya would be taken as mockery or evidence of ignorance. Some say that a man’s geographic origin can be determined in some part by the color and style of his galabeya. I observed an exchange between a Sudanese man in a galabeya and an Egyptian shop keep: the Sudanese asked for directions to a butchery, and after these were given the Egyptian asked where in the Saida (Upper Egypt) the other man was from. When the Sudanese said he was from his country, and not the Saida, the Egyptian said “but you wear the Saidi galabeya!” The Sudanese clarified the differences between the Sudanese galabeya and the Saidi. A personal experiment in galabeya wearing will have its own post.
- There is a rather pervasive perception among many Arabs that life for the American Muslim is brutish and precarious. While that is true at certain times (in some places more than others), it is a perception that is on the whole incorrect. This subject will also receive its own post.