In other words: The Khawaga’s Lament

3 April 2011 § Leave a comment

A recent post on the Al-Masry al-Youm from basically my favorite Arab world news blogger, Issandr El Amrani, addresses a lot of the concerns I have had regarding my own place in Egyptian society as an Egyptian with another nationality who is often assumed to be not Egyptian at all. Also, it touches on some of the concerns I’ve mulled over when considering the fact that my kids – if I choose to have any – will likely be very limited in their ability to participate in the public political life of any of the countries of which both PG and I are citizens for various reasons unless attitudes change considerably towards Muslims in America and foreigners in Egypt and Greece. Let us be thankful, I suppose, for those open-minded, still-guilty-over-that-recent-colonial-past Brits. Anyway, Issandr, as always, does a nice job of summing up the various facets of being a foreigner in Egypt.

As the columnist Salama Ahmed Salama noted several years ago in al-Ahram,  Egyptians’ relationship with foreigners is a complicated affair. He called it “the khawaga complex,” which stems from both a sense of superiority and inferiority. The former is manifested in condescension and resentment towards foreigners, the latter in envy and thoughtless emulation. The two emotions are paradoxically often expressed at the same time. It is partly understandable, since khawagas are after all a privileged and often clueless group, but more unpleasant when applies it to the bulk of foreigners in Egypt who are neither (relatively) rich nor bear the passports of a strategic patron. Just ask any Sudanese refugee.

Click over and read the whole thing. It’s a good read. Incidentally, the URL for this here blog is most certainly a play on the name of Issandr’s main project – The Arabist. If you’re not already a dedicated reader of it, it’s a great place to find news and views on goings on across the Arab world.

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