🌍 πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬ Who are the Arab people(s), what is the Arab World, what is the Arabic Language(s), and how is Egypt related?

The nations of the Arab world on an orthographic projection map. Here the central location of this region on the globe can be seen. Egypt is also highlighted in blue in the center of this region.
The nations of the Arab world on an orthographic projection map. Here the central location of this region on the globe can be clearly seen. Egypt is also highlighted in blue in the center of this region.

🌍 πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬ Some very common questions which cross the minds of many people around the world is concerning the central region of the world with people who speak the Arabic language, commonly known as the Arab world. Questions arise like: who are those people (or peoples if they are ethnically different, like we’ll see in this article), what is the Arabic Language (or group of Arabic Languages, as we’ll see in this article), and how is Egypt related and integrated within all this sphere?Β Good and tough questions there, which we seek to answer … πŸ™‚ We answer the key question: what is the relationship between Egyptians and Arabs and how did Egypt become a key influencer in the Arab World?

🌍 🏝️ 🌊 Before we answer those questions, we leave the 10-min video below just as a brief introduction of the only European, African, Asian (“Eurafrasian”) and most ancient nation in the world … Egypt. It is the cultural fusion and ethnic cocktail of the Pharaohs! πŸ˜€ This short video can act as a quick crash course there about the current discourse of Egypt in the modern time … some things might be incorrect or without consensus, but it can pass as a starter (no personal (dis)agreement with anything political in this video though) πŸ˜‰

 

The Egyptian race and are they considered Arabs?

πŸ‘‘ Well, this is a very tough question indeed! Egyptians are proud of being descendants of their original ancestors of the Pharaohs (the cradle of civilization), yet they are also proud of being nationally part of the Arab world (or in other words, the “Arab nationality“). So technically speaking, to answer this question we need to distinguish between ethnicity (origins of the people) and nationality (the political identity of the people).

Egypt Top Destination Sphinx Reuters
The Egyptian Sphinx (source: Reuters)

🏝️ The Egyptians are a very ancient set of people and they have a very old nation (if not the oldest nation in the world) running since the times of the ancient Pharaohs thousands of years ago. The Egyptian people existed before any other nation in the same region, including the people of Arabia. In a sense, the Egyptian people are the ‘origins’ of the Arabic people of the Arabian peninsula, i.e. the original people of Arabia are a branch of Egyptians who inhabited the Arabian peninsula long time ago. The proof for this fact historically is that the people of Arabia are an offspring of a marriage relationship between prophet Abraham and an Egyptian woman called Hagar (mother of prophet Ismael, the father of Arabs). Therefore, technically speaking, all the people of Arabia are half-Egyptian, of-course genetically it will be different because the people of Arabia probably mixed with other peoples too, but their origins is half-Egyptian. The historic origin of the people of Arabia also explains their natural relationship with religion as they are sons of the prophet Abraham (from his son prophet Ishmael).

πŸ‘ͺ Egyptians are an independent ethnic group (see our previous article). Most (literate/educated) Egyptians can speak the formal Arabic language (which is different from their day-to-day spoken language, more about that in the section about ‘language’ below). They can fluently speak the standard Arabic language and they feel that they belong to the ‘bigger’ Arab nation, commonly known as the Arab World (the group of Arabic speaking countries in the center of the world). Actually, Egypt can be seen as the key driver of the Arab nations alongside other big Arabic nations like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, etc. (similar to France and Germany as key drivers of the European Union which is also an artificial nationality or a group of nations with some things in common). This can be seen for example in the Arab League (an organisation similar to the European Commission in Brussels), which is headquartered in the capital of Egypt, Cairo (showcasing the central significance of Egypt in the Arab World).

Meeting of the Arab leaders of the Arab League. The Egyptian president, El-Sisi, is seen in the front on the left, standing next to [in order from left-to-right] the Sudanese president (slightly at the back), the Amir of Kuwait (front), the king of Saudi Arabia (front), and the president of Yemen (front-right).
Meeting of the Arab leaders of the Arab League. The Egyptian president, El-Sisi, is seen in the front on the left, standing next to [in order from left-to-right] the Sudanese president (slightly at the back), the Amir of Kuwait (front), the king of Saudi Arabia (front), and the president of Yemen (front-right).
πŸ•Œ β›ͺΒ πŸ• πŸ› In addition, Egypt hosts the ancient Al-Azhar university (one of the first universities in the world) considered to be an official Arabic educational institute in the Arab world and the whole world. Also, Egypt hosts the Al-Azhar mosque and the Grand Imam whom are considered the de-facto representatives of the Islamic religion and its education in the whole world, due to the curriculum and ideologies of enlightenment, modernity, openness and moderate viewpoints they promote. Egypt also hosts one of the main (and biggest + oldest) Orthodox churches of Christianity in the whole world, which is the Coptic Orthodox Church and its pope, alongside the Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai. Egypt also contributed significantly to Judaism and also has some historic Jewish institutes that were of global importance in the past (this mixture of Abrahamic religions and history in Egypt can be seen in the old city in Cairo, called the religion complex, which can be visited by tourists in Cairo). All of the Abrahamic religions and their main figures had history in Egypt at one-point in their lifetime (including Joseph, Moses, the sacred family of mother Mary & Jesus Christ, Muhammad, etc.), making Egypt a significant and important place of religions across the ages.

🌍 More about the so-called ‘Arab world‘ (an artificial group of geographically neighbouring nations which speak the Arabic language and which are nationally related together, similar to the European Union as we specified before), Egypt is actually geographically in the center of this Arab world just as much as it is the central nation of the Arab world in significance. Actually, to the surprise of many people, the biggest population of Arabic speakers is not even in the geographical region of the Arabian peninsula (the original or ethnically authentic ‘Arabs’ if we may say) … it is actually Egypt! Egyptians constitute the biggest population of the Arabic language in the world (this is similarly comparable with Brazil having the biggest population of speakers of the Portuguese language, not actually Portugal, the original speakers, as some might expect!!) This explains why Egypt has a big influence on the nations of the Arab World as they are the biggest nation which speaks this language and which has most movies for the cinema, music, literature, and arts in this language. That is also why most people in the Arab World can understand (if not also speak) the modern Egyptian language, and why the modern Egyptian language is one of the most popular variety of Arabic which is studied by many people around the world today.

πŸ”­Β The people living in the different Arab nations have contributed to science, arts, global development and humanity throughout history, with significant contributions happening during the medieval era of “the Golden age” (during the early time when the religion of Islam was introduced). Before that by thousands of years, the Egyptians in specific have contributed significantly to civilization and culture during the times of the ancient Pharaohs. Similarly, other Arab nations had significant contributions and history before becoming part of the Arab world (i.e. before they were seized during the Arab conquest), like the Phoenician civilisation.

Traditional Arabic tiles with distinctive and artistic patterns.
Traditional Arabic tiles with distinctive and artistic patterns.

πŸ•ŠοΈ So back again to the term “Arabs”, it is similar and comparable to the term “European” for instance. Both are terms referring to a collection of peoples from multiple nations, ethnicities, cultures, local spoken languages, and characteristics. Many times, the term “Arabs” is confused with the Arabic ethnicity, and is used to refer to this specific ethnicity and not the common national identity as specified before, so in this case it is referring to the specificΒ people of the Arabian ethnicity living in the Arabian peninsula (i.e. the Gulf countries).Β  In such cases, the term “Arab World” is alternatively used to collectively refer to the different group of Arabic speaking nations spanning the different regions and ethnic groups mentioned before. Another correction of a common misconception is that the term “Arabs” does not necessarily mean “Muslims”. Although the religion of Islam has originated from Arabia, yet “Arabs” consist of adherents of multiple Abrahamic religions … with predominantly Islam adherents but also with Christianity having large number of followers and some few Jews too. While the Arab identity is definitely always defined independently of religious identity (therefore, an Arab could be a Muslim, Christian or even a Jew!)

🌼The main facts about the different groups of ethnicities whom are collectively and commonly called nowadays as “Arabs” and the nations of the Arab world is as follows:
* Authentic Arabs (those residing in the Arabian peninsula): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan (partially), Iraq (partially)
* Mixed-Arabs (of the Arabian peninsula): Oman, Yemen
* Egyptians (central trans-continental region): Egypt
* Berbers (Magharba of North West Africa): Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya
* African (of Central / East Africa) : Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia, Djibouti, Comoros
* Levantine people (from North west Asia / North of Arabic peninsula): Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan

Emblem of the Arab League of nations.
Emblem of the Arab League of nations.

The Arabs, the Arab World and Egypt

❓ Back again to the main question, who are the peoples who constitute the Arab World then (commonly called the ‘Arabs’, and commonly confused as an ethnicity for nations in the Arab world, which is not true!) To correct the misconceptions here, if ‘Arabs’ mean the “people who can speak the Arabic language <mostly, if educated at school> and who are nationally related to the Arab world” then Egyptians and all other nations in the Arab World can be considered Arabs. On the other hand though, if it means “ethnically and genetically” then we need to distinguish here between Arabs and Egyptians (and the multiple other peoples of the Arab World). Egyptians (just as much as other nations in the Arab World, like those in the Levantine, North Africa or Eastern Africa) are ethnically independent, although they are related to the Arabic people (i.e. inhabitants of Arabia) as we have mentioned earlier. Although some genetics mixed of course after the Arabic conquest of the nations of the ‘Arab World’, still the people of those countries mostly preserve their original ethnicity … the Egyptians still preserve their original and independent genetic code!

🀝 This said, all nations of the Arab World, including Egypt, consider themselves “Arabs” too just as much as their original ethnicity (like the ‘Egyptian’ ethnicity for Egypt). They identify as Arabs in terms of sharing the same formal language (although each nation has a mixture in their spoken language, mainly influenced by Arabic), some similarity in the interlinked music & culture (which is closely intersecting between the different nations in the Arab World, but with slight-to-major differences existing between the different regions), same religions (Abrahamic religions of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), similar literature, same national identity, mixed bloodline, and last but not least the tasty cuisine of course!! This is similarly comparable with the nations of the EU, they all identify as ‘European‘, yet each nation has its own distinct ethnicity and cultural specificities (e.g. Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, French, etc.), but still with some different interlinked and similar mixtures of languages and cultures which are related to each other to different extents.

Meeting of Arab leaders and Global leaders in the Egyptian Economic Conference of 2015 with President El-Sisi of Egypt in front center
Meeting of Arab leaders and global leaders in the Egyptian Economic Conference of 2015 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt. President El-Sisi of Egypt is in the front-center with fellow Arab leaders in the front row, including [right to left]: president of Comoros, president of Palestine, King of Bahrain, Saudi Arabian minister of Foreign affairs, Egyptian president, Amir of Kuwait, president of Jordan, and president of Sudan.
πŸ’¬ In terms of the Egyptian modern day-to-day spoken language (which is largely with Arabic influence), ethnicity & genetics (although have mixed with other nations to a small extent), history before the Arab conquest of Egypt in 639-642 A.D., and the characteristics of the Egyptian people, then they are independent and identify clearly as ‘Egyptian’ alongside their ‘Arab’ national identity.

The Egyptian Language and the Arabic language

πŸ—£οΈ 🌐 Technically, the Arabic language is a group of multiple independent languages based on the modern standard Arabic language. The technical name for such kind of languages is a “macrolanguage“. The Arabic family of languages is one of the most spoken set of languages in the world with about 422 million speakers, where 290 million are native speakers and 132 million speak it as a foreign language (According to 2017 estimates). All nations of the Arab world learn in school the same modern standard Arabic language which is used in formal communications (like TV news and government announcements), used in literature and science, and used as a medium language of communication between the different nations. However, it must be noted, that each nation has its own distinct child language of this formal language which is spoken by the people in their day-to-day life, at home, in music, on the street, and sometimes used in specific literature and informal written communications (like advertisements). The local languages in different regions are all derivatives of the formal Arabic language, however, theyΒ  differ to different extents in their terminologies and grammar (which have independently developed and which are affected by the historic languages of the regions) making those spoken languages not completely mutually comprehensible between different regions. This is just as much as Latin is common to all Latin-based languages (e.g. Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French,Β Catalan, Galician, etc.) making those languages similar … yet, Latin is a family of languages with distinctive child languages which are not always mutually comprehensible (well, they are mutually comprehensible to different extents between specific languages, yet each language constitute its independent spoken terminologies and grammar), which is comparable to Arabic and its child languages (e.g. Egyptian, Sudanese, Levantine Arabic, Maghrebi, Gulf Arabic, etc.)

Arabic coloured alphabets albayan calligraphy
The Arabic language (the word “Alarabiya”) written in Arabic alphabets, where each character is highlighted in a different colour (which are read from right-to-left starting from the blue character for ‘A’)

Many different varieties of the Arabic language are also mutually comprehensible by native speakers of each region of the Arab World, so if each person speaks their own language when communicating with others, they can still hold a conversation without a problem (similar to a Spanish person speaking with an Italian or Portuguese or so). However, although the different language varieties are based on the main formal Arabic language and are generally mutually comprehensible by the different people from different Arab nations, yet, for foreigners learning the formal Arabic language, it will be relatively difficult for them to understand the different local languages and dialects without spending time living with their respective native speakers (differences and diversions in the dialects and languages can be relatively big for them) so they will have to communicate in the modern formal Arabic language (which might seem “weird” and uncommon for the locals to use in daily life and spoken communications, however still, the majority of people of the diverse Arab world learn formal Arabic in school and can fluently speak it. So, it could be thought like the citizens of the Arab World learn their original “Latin” or base Arabic language at school, which doesn’t happen in Europe with Latin on the other hand!). Also note that the modern formal (standard) Arabic language (i.e. the original one like the “Latin” of European languages) is the main language of science, (mainstream) literature, formal communications by government and authorities, and (formal) written media for all nations of the “Arab world” region … while the different regional Arabic varieties and languages are used for daily life and speech, spoken media, entertainment shows, cinema & music, some advertisements, online/mobile content and communications, festivals, parties, etc.

The main lingual differences between different spoken Arabic varieties and languages: grammar and order of words (sentence structure), different connectives and local terminology for objects and life matters or events, different pronunciations of the vocals, different vowels and conjugations of verbs, different pronoun/possessives/preposition forms, local language terminology mixed in the Arabic language, etc. The modern Egyptian language though is the most well understood in the Arab world as it is easy to understand and to learn from the media, literature, and arts.

The Egyptian language is an exception because of the Egyptian media, cinema, and music which spreads throughout the nations of the Arab world. There is also a large number of Egyptian communities living in the different countries of the Arab World, making their language easily comprehensible by others. However, and as an example, the local spoken language of the Arab countries in North West Africa will be barely comprehensible by countries in the most eastward countries in the Arabian peninsula (they are only mutually comprehensible to different extents between the peoples and nations in the North of Africa). The workaround when communicating across borders is to use the modern standard Arabic language which is learned during the years of school education.

Tombs of the Pharaohs in Egypt
Tombs of the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt

🌊 Egypt as an Eastern Mediterranean country (or technically as a “Eurafrasian”, European-African-Asian, trans-continental country) was heavily influenced by surrounding cultures and languages. As a result, the modern Egyptian language is a combination and a blend of the old Arabic Language, with the original Coptic Language of Egypt (with its Pharaonic origins), Greek which was introduced by the Greeks when they were in Egypt, and multiple other languages introduced subsequently by multiple immigrants to Egypt (including Italian, Armenian, French, Turkish, English, etc.). When the Arabs seized Egypt in the year 639 A.D., they were welcomed by the Egyptians as protectors from the cruel Roman rulers, and thereof the Egyptians started to gradually adopt and mix the Arabic language in their daily life. This introduced multiple terminologies and grammar to the original Egyptian language before the Arabs ruled Egypt. This explains why the modern spoken Egyptian language is an independent language with its own identity, yet closely related and branching from the modern Arabic language (as it is the language with one of the biggest influence on the modern Egyptian language).

Lingual references:

 

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