A Letter to Egypt

Dear Egypt,

I have finally decided to tell you my story. With the soaring emotions and nationalism surging, a newfound and stronger than ever fear of foreigners and ‘agendas’ has left me in it’s wake, a second-class citizen. I have not wanted to write you before now, knowing that you are strained, knowing that your very seams are bursting with demands, but I can not keep quiet any longer. If all you do is listen, I will be satisfied.

I have lived in Egypt my whole life. My name is Amira Mikhail. My father is from a small town outside of Assiut. I am Egyptian; my father is Egyptian.

But I am also American and my mother is a white American. My father had grown up in the States and met my mother, who had in fact just moved back from India.  Yes, I am a strange one and am always thoroughly confused. It comes as no surprise that I go through an identity crisis every single year, but I usually survive these mini-crises, and become just a bit stronger and a bit crazier.

You may now be wondering what this is about. Bear with me as the story unfolds; please hear me out.

You have always been my first home and I never once regretted growing up here. When I went to college in the States (which was a very hard decision) I was known as ‘the ‘Egyptian’ and ‘the sandmonkey’ (believe it or not). I helped start the Arabic class and program (to the amusement of the many Egyptians who swear that I can’t speak a word of Arabic) and always represented the Middle East and Egypt in our diversity days and events. I even got a bunch of Americans to sing an Arabic song in front of hundreds of people. Every break I had I would come home, and every time I left home I would cringe and squirm the whole plane ride over. I only wanted to be home.

However, with time I started to soften for the States. I learned to love the culture, the people, the history, and the life I built there. I loved it there. I’ll say that one more time: I love America and I love its history (despite the many issues and problems.  It’s a package though.  A bit like you, Egypt).

After graduation, I made yet another hard decision and I bought my one-way ticket back home.

Home again, I found myself struggling along in here like every Egyptian did. But I loved you and never really considered leaving. It had taken long enough to return here after college and I was not planning on leaving permanently.

No one understood though. I was ridiculed for staying, let alone for coming back. “You have a passport? Leave! Why would you stay in this place?” or some would say, “If only I had your passport….” Others would insult you saying that there was no hope and that you were a failure of a country. After a while, I simply stopped trying to explain and even stopped defending you. It was useless to tell so many people, every day, why I was home. Did I even know? Either way, no one seemed to love you the way I did, aside from my parents maybe. Everyone told me that I should just leave, but I didn’t. Maybe I was border-line obsessive (if that’s the case, then I am fully obsessive now), but I didn’t care. I was where I wanted to be and I would not leave. All I hoped to do was to help you, change you, and see you become the country I knew you could be, though others could not.

But please, do not get me wrong. I have always loved you exactly the way you were. I have only hated the oppression people have bound you up in. Your groaning had reached my ears and I only wanted to release you.

Last year I remember telling my family that the only thing that would save you was a full-fledged revolution. When the revolution started, I could not help but be swept away by all the events. I began to have hope. Of course, my family and I did not leave. We were home so it was not even an option. My craze for you intensified as I sought ways to do more and more. But now something had changed, something was different. Now Egyptians loved you. I was one of many, not a minority, and I felt so enthralled that I could now share my love and vision of you with many others.

And then that is when it happened. Almost overnight I became a second-class citizen. My hair is fair, my skin is fair, my Arabic is not fluent, and I am not considered ‘pure’ Egyptian. I see badges and stickers now that say “100% Egyptian” and I can’t help but cringe. “Am I not Egyptian because my mother is American?”

Even before the revolution, as I walked through your streets, my streets, I heard people saying “Welcome” every time I passed them. Being a Christian female never helped my situation at all, but I will swallow that one right now. The day Mubarak stepped down, a taxi stopped me to ask me for directions. I responded quite naturally in Arabic. The lady next to him then started yelling at me, saying in a terrible English accent, “Go away, leave Egypt!” I leaned down and smiled as I told her in Arabic that she should be ashamed of herself. I hope I made her feel stupid. That same day as we were roaming the streets in celebration, my sister heard someone say about her, “Look! She is foreign. Take her flag.”  I wish people like that would stop for one moment and think about how they would feel if someone said that to them on their most celebrated day in their own country.

This all of course comes out of the irrational fear of foreigners and external agendas, blaa blaa, etc. I am so incredibly confused by this. Why are we (being Egyptians) so afraid of our one of our sources of income and foreign aid? Yes, I understand we fear occupation and foreigners meddling in our politics. But seriously, how can we justify this fear? Some say it is because before the revolution, and even now, anyone with another passport gets treated better than a full Egyptian. So naturally, there is mistrust or a sense of resentment. It is a valid reason to be upset. But why is it that the government allowed/allows such discrimination against Egyptians, its own citizens? This leads to the point that much of the mistrust and resentment comes as a direct result from the laws that are in place in this country and a dishonest media campaign.  It feels like a deliberate brainwashing or manipulation from the authorities in this country, whether political or religious leaders. They have spread this idea that the outsiders are more valuable than full Egyptians in Egypt and on the flip side that foreigners are evil occupiers and will hurt this country. Sick.

Some tell me that it doesn’t matter. Tell me that I am more Egyptian then they will ever be. But I won’t lie. The jokes, the laughs, and the gentle teasing burn little holes in me. But what can I do now? Not much, since I can’t change who I am nor would. I did try to change a bit. I dyed my hair so the people on the street would not think I am a journalist or a foreigner. That way I can walk around more freely and go in and out of almost anything I want. Sometimes I don’t even say I am American.

But the minute that happens, I know it has gone too far. Egyptians should not force me to conform to some notion of what a ‘pure’ Egyptian should be. No such notion should exist. Let me ask you something. How is it fair that this hypocrisy and fickle love for you, Egypt, has made me ashamed of who I am? How is it fair that they have isolated and alienated a person who has loved you more faithfully than any of they have? And trust me, I am not alone. I speak as one of many other ‘halfies’ who are also border-line obsessed, yet border-line alienated from their own country.

I guess I wish I knew how you felt about all of this racism that is seeping into our society. Or are you going to tell me that it has always been there? You have watched this country for thousands of years, as it rose, fell, rose, fell and as it rises again. You have seen humans scramble for your land, for your power, and for your love. And now people are scrambling for the right to be yours. Am I wrong to only ask for what I always considered mine?

How is it though that now we must look at the bloodline to deduce nationality or citizenship? What bloodline anyway? If we want to be full purists why don’t we annihilate anyone who has Arab blood since it wasn’t originally Egyptian.  Then the only people left will be a small percentage of Upper Egyptian Christians. Kind of like my family, one might say. What do you think Egypt or do you think it sounds as silly as I think it does? It is silly because you are a melting pot of cultures. There is Greek, Arab, Turkish, Nubian, Bedouin, Siwi, and maybe we can even say Coptic as well. Do you see how ridiculous it is to base citizenship off of a bloodline? I think it is racist and it’s sickening.

I am not alone in saying I feel alienated or strange. Many Egyptians with fair skin (since it’s actually quite common) get bothered as well. So, dear Egypt, please help us start accepting those who are different, those who are minorities, those who are dual citizens, those who are ‘halfies,’ and those who are not Muslim. Let’s shape our society into a place of tolerance and respect, let us return to your days of glory when the whole world converged at your doors.

I will only close with one thing. I hope you do not mind that I love two countries, and I hope you understand that my loyalty to you is not split or mangled.  I am proud of who I am. I am Egyptian and I am American and I will never change who I am nor would I want to.

With sincere love,

An Egyptian Girl


7 thoughts on “A Letter to Egypt

  1. Hi Amira,

    Great post! I know what you are saying regarding being neglected by the very country that you love. Sometimes we are pushed to the side and it happens everywhere in the world. Yes, it is sickening, but the majority of our society are uneducated and don’t know otherwise, like that lady in the cab that yelled at you.
    If she was educated, she wouldn’t have blurted such a rude comment.

    We all pray for a better Egypt. This is one of the main reasons that I haven’t left the country either. It’s times like these that we need to educate the people about putting the ignorance aside for the benefit of the country and returning it to its former glory.

    -Hashem

  2. Hello Amira,
    .
    Your words touch me, some of your experiences and your situation is not strange to me. I share your feelings of sadness, feelings of despair, your longing for being accepted. The background of my life is very different from yours, but I can understand you very well.
    .
    As a human being I was born, grown up in germany, with white skin (parents white skin, both germans). I am an artist, a painter. In my whole life I was confrontated here again and again with racism, intolerance, ignorance, hatred. No wonder: background Holocaust. Why? To say it in short: Because I think “different”, because I live “different”, because I am “different” in many ways (my personal life I can not devide from my artwork. I am what I paint, and my painting, my artwork that’s me). I have no nationality feelings. I am a human being, I feel as a human being. I am one member of the human family on this blue planet Earth. A human being with a german passport.
    .
    I am not sorry for that I do not feel “german”. I only can show what I feel and think. My “homeland” is region Bergstraße (in a country called “germany”), where I was born and grew up and where I currently live.
    .
    So I always feel like being between two worlds. And none of these worlds want me. Often being ignored, not-wanted-person, because I am “different”, not the “masculine man” they want me to be, not the “german” they want me to be – and because I am an enemy of brainwash and a friend of freedom.
    .
    Please do not give up hope, Amira! You, me, we all – we can not alter (change) the people. We only can show the people that we respect them, that we estimate them, that we love them, that we love our “homeland”.
    .
    Do not give up, Amira! All your sadness, all your suffering, all your longing give you strength, give you power, give you believe in yourself, give you love. And Love is the basic of all human live. You show it in your letter.
    .
    You wrote about your feelings, experiences, longings, you made them public. I am very proud, if I can say so, please allow me to say, that I am very proud of you – you wrote a gorgeous letter! You give hope and you show how important it is, to speak, to get up, to struggle for your human rights. Your struggle is our struggle.
    .
    Your letter give hope for many many people in the whole world, who are as you in the same situation. May they also get up and speak!
    .
    Maybe you know, that many humans in the country where you once lived, there are many native americans in a similar situation.
    .
    I support you by spreading your letter – and additional you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers (I do not belong to a religion, my believe is “different”, I believe in our all Mother Earth).
    .
    With my very best wishes for you and for your family,
    in deep sympathy and solidarity
    Pit Becker
    also known as “paintmyblues”
    .
    http://www.pitbeckerartwork.de
    http://www.twitter.com/paintmyblues
    http://www.youtube.com/paintmyblues
    http://www.myspace.com/pitbecker

  3. I am Libyan and my mother is German, my parents have lived in Cairo for the last 35 years, father still lives there, I don’t want to go in details about my life but all I can say is Cairo is not the same as I left it in 1987 to move to USA, since I am American by birth. Egyptians have become very aggressive which I was surprised on my last two visits during 15 months. At least I have great memories of Cairo before I left specially Old beautifyl Heliopolis which became a dump in my opinion. I agree what you wrote because it is disgusting because there so much hate, racism in Egypt which it did not exist. Cairo still a special city to my heart even with it’s all headaches.

  4. I’ve been wondering exactly how it feels for you there…I thought it might be this, but am glad you wrote about it and were able to put it into words.

    “Belonging” is a funny thing. It opens us up, makes us vulnerable. If you didn’t feel like you “belonged” as an Egyptian, it wouldn’t sting quite so much when they don’t accept you.

    The sting means you care. And Egypt needs people who care.

    Thinking of you, Cousin!

    1. Sarah! Sting definitely means I care, means a lot of us do! So much yet to do in this country, starting with the way we love each other, the way we care for each other, the way we respect each other! Cultural revolution needs to happen simultaneously to the political one.

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