A Guide: How Not To Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt

The past few days I have heard so many stupid things from friends, blogs, pundits, correspondents, politicians, experts, writers that I want to pull my hair.  So, I will not beat around the bush, I will be really blunt and give you a handy list to keep you from offending Egyptians, Arabs and the world when you discuss, blog or talk about Egypt.  Honestly, I would think most Progressives would know these things, but let’s get to it.

  • “I am so impressed at how articulate Egyptians are.”  Does this sound familiar?  Imagine saying this about a Latino or African American?  You don’t say it.  So don’t say it about Egyptians.   Gee, thank you oh great person who is of limited experience and human contact for recognizing that out of 80 million people some could be articulate, educated and speak many languages.  Not cool.  Don’t say it.  You may think it, but it makes you sound like a dumb ass.
  • “This is so sad”:  No, sad were the thirty years of oppression, repression and torture.
  • ” I loved Sadat”:  Mubarak was made of the same cloth of Sadat.  Same repression, same ill-treatment of their people, yet you were all in love with Sadat.  Hmm, where and when do you think the repression started?  The State Of Emergency?  Sadat was not loved by the Egyptian people.   Why do you love Sadat?
  • “What they did to the Mummies is horrible”:  Yes, but who did it?  Think, Mubarak, for years has been playing the “I am the stabilizing force”.  The one thing you know about Egypt, the stuff that was underground and from the past, you will be distraught and find the protestors to be disgusting.  Yet it was not the protesters who did it.  In Alexandria, the young people protected the library.  Did anyone carry that story?  Statement from the Director of the Alexandria Library:

The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters.  I am there daily within the bounds of the curfew hours.   However, the Library will be closed to the public for the next few days until the curfew is lifted and events unfold towards an end to the lawlessness and a move towards the resolution of the political issues that triggered the demonstrations.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. It renounced violence in the 1970s and has no active militia (although a provocative martial arts demonstration in December 2006 raised some alarm that they may be regrouping a militia.)

Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood or Ikhwan Al Muslimun in Arabic, is frequently mentioned in relation to groups such as Hamas and Al Qaeda.

  • “The Twitter Revolution”. No, this is the Revolution of the Egyptian people.  Egyptians resisted for decades.  They were tortured, jailed and repressed by the Mubarak and Sadat regimes.  Twitter and Facebook are tools.  They did not stand in front of the water canons, or go to jail for all these years to get the credit.  There were demonstrations all summer long and for a several years through out Egypt but they are rarely covered, because we are worried about what Sarah Palin said, or some moronic Imam saying something stupid.  Does it sound a bit arrogant to take credit for a people’s struggle?
  • “The women are so brave”:  Egyptian women have always been brave.  If you want to know about Sadat’s Egypt, read Nawal El Saadawi’s memoir while in jail.  Memoirs from the Women’s Prison
  • “Al Jazeera has come to its own”: Al Jazeera has been on it’s own, you just only noticed. .  Do you think you believed the Bush administration spin about Al Jazeera?  Just maybe you believed the bullshit?  They must be doing something right if all the factions on the ground want to shut them down.  The tyrants, the US and the Israelis.  Hmm, maybe they are speaking truth to power?
  • “Mubarak kept the peace treaty”: So, what do you think, if the Egyptian people choose another government, they will go to war with Israel?  Maybe they will demand a few more things from Israel in how they negotiate with the Palestinians.  Maybe Gazans will get better treatment?  Maybe the balance of power will not be tipped over to Israel?  Egypt protests: Israel fears unrest may threaten peace treaty.   Hmm, so we should support the oppression of 80 million Egyptians for a false stabilization?
  • “If they get Democracy they will elect extremists”.  Imagine if the world said that about America.  The Tea Party threatens world stability, as did the Bush administration.  How would you like if others used that as a threat to support an autocrat who made all opposing parties illegal?  In truth, US politics threaten world stability more than Egypt does.  Second, the implication is that democracy is not to be trusted in the hands of “certain” nations, people and religions is offensive, racist and ignorant.  You do not claim to value human rights, democracy and freedom and then you make exclusions based on race, nationality and religion.  Don’t say this shit.
  • “The people are so nice”:  Yes they are, it’s your ignorant self that assumed they are all terrorists and fanatics.  What did you think?  Glad you went to Egypt and found the Egyptians nice.  After all, they do have a cosmopolitan civilization of over 5,000 years, yet you reduced them to “rag heads” , “jihadists”, “ali babas”, “terrorists”, the list is endless.  Imagine saying this about African Americans?  Asians?  Nope.  Just don’t fucking say it.  It’s patronizing.

It’s time Egyptians were heard.  It’s time the pundits and “Egypt hands” (old recycled western diplomats) were retired. These people were as good at predicting the current events as our economists were in predicting the economic calamity.  I am glad you all got to see things from Egypt outside your comfort zone.  Maybe now, you can give Egyptians and Arabs some respect.  The people in Egypt are struggling for human rights, dignity and freedom.  Like the rest of us, they want the economic means to care for their families.  Break down those closed ideas that dehumanize the Arab and Egyptian people in general.  That is all I ask.



Filed under Media, Middle East, Uncategorized

464 responses to “A Guide: How Not To Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt

  1. Really, really good. But you know, the worries about what will happen in Egypt comes from Mubarak being a Washinton lap dog. “They” know what they have/had, but not what they´re gonna get.

  2. Jenny

    I just got home from Cairo yesterday! It was a scary and wonderful time to be there…I did NOT find the Egyptians to dislike Americans. We were treated warmly and respectfully regardless of our politics

  3. Yeah, quite true…
    But also:
    “This is a poors’ revolution, hunger got then out.”
    “It’s only a front cover for the real battle, behind close doors, among some great powers interesated in taking control of Suez and all the rest.”
    “All that they can get is a pseudo-Democraty, no real freedom in sight for the next 100 years.”
    And more…

  4. Live from Alexandria… This is nice. Hope I’m not being presumptuous by linking to you on my blog.

  5. My Prof just said something stupid about Egypt. “Uprisings make me cry! Something about the massing of people… it’s just… so overwhelming… it always makes me cry. It’s retarded.”

    What I should have responded: Well, you’re a white lady in Canada that knows very little about the revolution in Egypt. Don’t use your tears to make this about you. And watch your language. UGH.

  6. Patronizing

    Good post up to the last point. Everyone who travels to another country comments on the people. I’m Canadian. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that Canadians are ‘the friendly-est people ever!’. I don’t actually think they are being patronizing. I think they are being nice. Same as I have commented on the people in almost every country I’ve been to because those are often the most important memories you bring back from your travels.

    But hey, I guess everyone is entitled to be defensive. And, in all fairness, I have heard more times than I can count ‘The Americans I have met are really nice!’ with a tone of surprise. Although, have you talked to any John Dow Israelis lately (i.e. someone in the street)? Not saying they’re all super nice, but I bet you might be surprised that they’re not all the scum of the earth… Or not, because I guess that would be patronizing. Or… maybe just seeing it from the other side. Or… something.

    • Ambra, it’s not just for the Egyptians, I guess, by now I thought we would get it, people can be nice or bad all over the world. It’s the surprise. I assure you, I have equally had it out with visitors to American who are surprised that all their stereotypes about Americans were wrong. This is my point.

      • Anastasia

        Great points. I have heard a lot of stupid, insensitive comments regarding the events in Egypt. As an American, I am glad that not everyone sees us all as stupid, George W Bush’s. He really destroyed a lot of lives, at home and abroad, while in office. He disgusts me!
        We’re not able to control everything our government does, and everyone I know supports the Egyptian people in their demand for what has been denied. We all are entitled to basic human rights, despite whatever bullshit dictators try to deny. I continue to be impressed, (from afar) by the strength and resilience of the Egyptian people. Many Americans support your cause!

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  9. erykah

    Hear, hear!

  10. Anders

    ‎”I would think most Progressives would know these things.” Ah the humility of the American left, because Allah forbid anyone else could be more enlightened. As for democratic peace, the “implication” is not whether nondemocracies deserve a system like ours, but whether they have the pol and cultural norms to be ready for their own. Do those conditions exist in Egypt? Sure, they probably do. The protest is proof of a national will for an alternative to tyranny, though 30 years of state controlled media also suggest they might be unused to a democratic process, a fair and honest one at least. But let’s not pretend Sarthanapolos is really replying to anyone with a brain. Besides, popular revolutions most often fail, even pro-democratic ones. As most Progressives would know, Napoleon kicked Snowball out and became the same tyrant of Animal Farm they overthrew. Consider the People Power Revolution: a defecting military, multi-sectoral protesters, a Catholic cardinal at the forefront, etc. Perfect recipe for a peaceful turnover of power. But how effective democracy was in the ensuing years remains questionable. All Sarthanapolos is doing is debasing critiques of skeptics, who may actually have Egypt’s best interests at heart: not to fall for the same trap as other countries who have tried this before.

    • Molly

      “All Sarthanapolos is doing is debasing the critiques of skeptics, who may actually have Egypt’s best interests at heart.”

      Did we read the same post? Sarthanapolos is calling out ignorant and racist statements, actively trying to aid those who do not wish to be offense in wording their commentary on the Egyptian revolution.

      And seriously, are you suggesting that nations without your estimation of the “pol and cultural norms to be ready for their own” should continue to suffer oppression rather than rise up in revolution? What madness! Should a woman not fight off her rapist if she knows she’s too weak to overpower him, or already too damaged by the rape she’s suffered to make decisions in her own best interest? Sure, not a perfect analogy, but your posting was equally lacking in strength of argument or example. If you do not like the advice given here, don’t take it.

      Power to the people.

  11. sean

    The Teaparty threatens world stability?….Can some one say brain-dead leftwing whackjob? Honestly I’m surprised you didn’t blame Sarah Palin for the turmoil in Egypt!!

    • Molly

      Well, amongst other things, many teapartiers have expressed incredulity on matters of global warming. I should say that affects the stability of the world.
      They are nationalists, which is always a dangerous thing to be.
      They want fewer regulations, “less governmental interference.” So they want more freedoms for themselves, yet…are predominantly against abortion, gay marriage (or LGBT rights in general).
      They are a majority-white group, with a track record of inciting violence (see Fox News and anything out of Sarah Palin’s mouth) and a tendency towards racism.

      You MUST be a teapartier.

    • sally

      sean, why would you be surprised? She’s in league with the same news channel that couldn’t find egypt on a map, so of course there’s no way it’s her fault. She can’t find the country!

      Monday July 27, 2009

  12. Michael Dominguez

    Some valid points, some nonsense, some evidence of a paucity of language… the truth is that change scares people and it seldom results in the realization of the rebels’ dreams. The muslim Brotherhood just a bunch of good old boys jawing together for a better world??? I don’t think so. Just look at their track record. But we can always hope for a change of heart (and tactics) and if we are wrong… well maybe some superman will come out to save us. When you are riding a tiger, it is not always a good idea to get off. I wish Egyptians the best (and some fervent prayers).

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  14. Elias

    Nice list but I lack some of the grim realism that would be appropriate. But first, I have been a anarchist and activist for most of my life and fought US imperialism in the streets. Please keep this in mind before you attack my complaints with some pro-con US bullshit argument.
    -The fact that we are not supposed to say that a turn in the balance of power will end up in the favor of islamist forces is poli-cor and not very historical or senseable. Since the Iran revolution every revolt or regime change from the Western Sahara to Pakistan has been in the favor of Islamist groups: Poverty and American supported regimes are and have been the very breeding ground for it. Yes the Egyptian people have the right to choose for there own, to be free of the regime but that doesn’t forbid anyone to say that likely, very, very likely things wil get worse: Egypt has lived of American aid and tourism, it has neither oil, industry or resources and attacks on Copts and tourist have been getting worse in recent years. It is possible that a shift in power will alliviate the presure and make possible a more Islamic orientated, peacefull and stable government. And the Gaza will hopefully benefit from this as they perhaps are alllowed more freedom (50% of the Gaza problem is Egyptian but no-one really cares, Israel bashing is much more fun). But the downside is this: Egypts economy is very weak, almost entirely dependend on tourism and foreign (American) aid. It remains to be seen how the new government will furfill it’s promises. They do not have very much to offer in terms of work, money or food. The future will tell.

    • Anne

      @ Elias “Egypt has lived of American aid and tourism, it has neither oil, industry or resources”

      Actually, it does have oil, industry and resources. It was the fastest growing economy in the Middle East before the crisis…If you lived there, you would see FTZs, industrial parks, factories, big business EVERYWHERE. So obviously, you’ve never lived their, or you’ve taken a two week vacation and seen, say, pyramids and nothing else. The problem is not that Egypt don’t have oil, industry or resources. Rather, it is that none of it trickles down to the poor, and only some of it trickles down to the middle class. Moreover, in the midst of all this “growth” people are still living in a police state, free speech suppressed, in neighborhoods under surveillance by the secret police.

      @Elias “and attacks on Copts and tourist have been getting worse in recent years.”

      Actually, they have not. Attacks on Copts and tourists were way worse in the 1990s, especially in the early part of the decade BEFORE the Muslim Brotherhood renounced violent protest. Which they did sometime in the mid-1990s. After which point, most of the “attacks on Copts and tourists” were carried out by people influenced by individuals who maybe used to be with the MB, but then went far far over the hedge or, in the case of the bombs in the Sinai in 2004/05 by people in the Sinai who have their own, rather monumental, qualms with the Egyptian state, along with ties to Gaza. Again, you would know this if you had lived there and, say, read a book now and then.

    • Dr Anonymous

      Realism and pessimism/unwarranted defeatism are not the same thing and the past is not always a good predictor of the future when arguments can be made that circumstances have changed. That the hegemony of neoliberalism has collapsed, the U.S. is, more or less, a spent empire with a leadership that seems uncertain how to tactically maintain its influence, Israel has increasingly become an international pariah and reinforced this in the past decade through overt and unnecessary warfare, Turkey has emerged as an increasingly independent center for Islamic power in the region, etc. are both very good arguments for why the accompanying identity politics in developing countries (religious communalism) might also be changing.

      So while you’re entitled to your pessimism, I think, as an activist and an anarchist, you should put more care into justifying it when presenting it to others so that it does come across as realism rather than as a demotivating or demobilizing sentiment.

      My two cents, meant in a spirit of comradeship.

  15. Sen

    Some decent points but too much defensive anger. For example:
    “I am so impressed at how articulate Egyptians are.”
    Yes. because it has a 54% literacy rate amongst women and 71.4% all around. On top of that the English news reports see Egyptians speaking in English, in a very articulate way. Yes, some people are surprised, because they don’t know much about Egypt, because up to now Egypt has been irrelevant in their lives. That doesn’t mean they assumed Egyptians were ignorant, rather that they just didn’t really know they were articulate in English.

    ““The people are so nice”: Yes they are, it’s your ignorant self that assumed they are all terrorists and fanatics. ”
    To reciprocate your bluntless, that is quite an ignorant comment in itself. Maybe people just didn’t have any preconceived notions of Egyptians and they are just expressing their new-found opinion? How relevant do you think Egypt was to most Westerners up to now? Not much, so they probably didn’t think much about how nice or otherwise Egyptians were. Now they have an opinion, and they’re expressing it.

    Sorry for the bluntness of the above, just adding a bit of balance. The rest of the stuff was good though.

    • I agree; I’ve spent plenty of time in various Arab countries but was also surprised at how many Egyptians spoke fluent English, particularly given the literacy rates (Syria has a much much higher literacy rate, but by all accounts, far less English, and yes, I know both countries’ colonial history).

      I agree with the vast majority of the post, but some of it is just defensive anger.

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  19. Sudo

    Thank you for this rant. It crushes the stereotype for many countries that undernourish their citizens economically. What some people tend to forget is that poverty produces smarter and self aware people. Also I would like to add that it is not easy to gather a country of people as one, its not easy to topple political parties, dictatorships and oppressors. If it would, we’d live in a very different setting. People get comfortable, lazy and stupid once their materialistic needs are fulfilled. Ex: America’s government turned silently into a police state but, it’s ok as long as I have my flatscreen TV teling me when the next big sale is. Self awareness gone.

    • Della Marcus

      At first I was really impressed with the fact that someone spoke out against cultural stereotyping and insensitivity, but now I see that many people who are responding, like Sudo, are actually using this forum to bash other people and governments. Very, very sad! Sudo: not all Americans are as shallow as you make them out to be, and I imagine that if someone lumped all your fellow citizens into some unflattering category you would not be very happy. It is so easy to criticize and find fault with others, but let’s start out in our own backyard! Shame on you!

      • Sudo

        Della but I live in the states and travelled the states. No one can speak about all but unfortunately majority shows. It’s not about bashing other Govt. It’s what Egypt has shown us -that people should stand up for what is wrong in their country. But in America with all the scary laws that are passed with out much obstacles it makes one wonder what people are willing up to give up once they have materialistic comfort. Yes not all are shallow but where are they when their president has the power to call his own people an enemy combatant and send them away for up to 3 years without or very very limited (almost non existant) communication with family or lawyers (it’s not in full speed yet but when it comes people will be shocked and too behind to know how to deal with it). The point being is that Egypt and Tunisia should open peoples eyes all over the world that they are the watch dogs of democracy not the govt. The govt. works for us and not for it’s own interest. I am very happy for Egypt for how united they are and their perseverance. I wish everyone will take note from what happened in Tunisia and what is happening in Egypt and start questioning whether their govts. are for their people or monetary interests.

    • Della L. Marcus

      Dear Sudo, I really liked a lot of what you responded to my message. I am not defending anyone, but I do not think that anyone’s best interest is served unless criticism is constructive, meaning that those criticising should also offer some useful options. I agree with you that America is very materialistic and has done its part to spread materialism around the world. However, a Palestinian friend of mine, Professor Suhayl Bushrui once told an audience that people around the world adopted this materialism of their own free will. Materialism does breed complacency and many, many ills. I live in Romania at present and see how quickly a nation can make this its ideal. Here it happened in less than 20 years. Everyone is becoming more and more concerned only with his or her own well-being, and the country as a whole is much poorer for it.

      I certainly do hope that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt lead to better conditions for the people, but am afraid that the new governments can so easily fall into the same trap of abuse and self-interest. The temptation on obtaining power is just too great! Only disinterested rulers, who are truly concerned for their fellow citizens will make a difference.

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  22. I am happy to read the news about the accomplishment of the Egyptian people for what the have done seemed a very remote possibility to me. I can sense their pride at this time in their effort to mold history and setting an example of moral and physical courage.

  23. Excellent explanation, I learned a lot, in fact I learned something like every new chapters.

    Just one thing bothers me . . .

    You can’t stand the way people ask things, or say things, or thinks about Egypt : I truly understand that since I came from a place who haves the sames issues (-in a far less proportion of course-)

    Well it’s funny, because me too, I just can’t stand your ton of voice in this post. The way you are speaking to your readers.

    You could have write this SUPERB post on a teacher ton of voice. But you choose the arrogant and pissed off kind.

    You are 200% right on EVERYTHING, but you could be more heard with another style. I, and my ignorance, felt insulted ALL THE TIME during the reading.

    You want the people to learn something and respect something or someone ?

    Perfect : i’m in line.

    But hey, don’t talk to us that way … we may have been acting like idiots or assholes, thing is, a lot of us just didn’t realized it because they didn’t have any other form of informations sources.

    We are a lot who are concerned about Egypt, because we have friends, beloved one all around. We want to know, we want to understand, we want to learn, we want to help if possible.

    But we won’t hear anything if the one who’s speaking to us do it like if we were some less than nothing.

    As said in the first place, your post could become a real reference**

    **Actually it is already for me, I saved it, and add your RSS on my reader.

  24. Melissa

    Thank you for this rant. It crushes the stereotype for many countries that undernourish their citizens economically. What some people tend to forget is that poverty produces smarter and self aware people. Also I would like to add that it is not easy to gather a country of people as one, its not easy to topple political parties, dictatorships and oppressors. If it would, we’d live in a very different setting. People get comfortable, lazy and stupid once their materialistic needs are fulfilled. Ex: America’s government turned silently into a police state but, it’s ok as long as I have my flatscreen TV teling me when the next big sale is. Self awareness gone. –> Thanks, Sudo. I really like this post. It’s so true.

    • Sophie

      If you really think America is a police state, you must not be poor enough to become smart.

      I’m hoping most of these comments are from highschoolers or maybe college freshmen. It would be depressing if they is an example of intelligence and critical thinking about by adults.

  25. Jay

    Great article.
    Agree with some other commenters about the last point though – it would be valid if rephrased to make it clear that saying “I expected the Egyptians to be horrible, but they were nice” is ignorant, but simply stating that you went somewhere and met nice people is not.

  26. Thank you very much for this post. I am sharing it because I am so sick of the “Ugly American” mentality. Well written, and I don’t care if you swear. It’s your freakin blog and you have a right to.

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  28. Great one bro 🙂

    Hope you’re enjoying the night guard shifts as much as I am 🙂

  29. Anne

    “people are so nice”

    With all due respect, most people you meet in Egypt are really nice…. I don’t feel in any way embarrassed about saying that. Mainly because I think you’d find that, since 2001, most Egyptians have been way nicer to Americans residing or visiting Egypt, than Americans have been to Egyptians or Arabs residing or visiting America.

    The point is: people in Egypt – not all, but many – are really nice to visitors, many of whom are from countries which don’t really deserve the niceness at all.

  30. Lynne Schlenker

    A vast majority of Americans are ignorant who never leave their country. It has been a third world country for many years now. As an American who recently returned after a ten year absence, I was shocked at the total lack of interest in other countries, etc. Other than the liberals, most people receive their news from the Fox Channel.

  31. an amazing post 🙂 about Egypt.

  32. Tehmina Akbar

    Excellent! Insightful! Sarcastic yet humerous! This is the way to reach people who have a brain.

  33. fantastic . well said, articulated, and enough humour not to be too reactive to those who are both ignorant and intolerant, to those blind and deaf, and those too stupid to listen to more than Fox News or some other biased news outlet. We live in Moscow, and listen to Al Jezeera as it’s the best news outlet and channel for updating what’s going on – because the English Press here is pretty reactionary but very biased too. Thanks. Great links. Very impressed.

  34. Petra

    I would like to add to the part about the Muslim Brothers, that they already stated to the public, or at least to a German news camera, that they participate in the revolution as Egyptian citizens, not Muslims. I quote them: “This is not an islamic revolution, it is a people’s revolution.”

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  37. Hebba Fahmy

    Dear Sarthanapalos,
    I’d like to quote the following excerpt of your blog entry “A Guide: How Not To Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt”. “’Al Jazeera has come to its own.’ Al Jazeera has been on it’s own, you just only noticed.” It’s for an article I’m co-writing for rabble.ca (www.rabble.ca), an online news publication. The article focuses on the role of media, including social media, in the people’s Revolution in Egypt. Thank you! Keep writing great posts!

  38. iman grizi

    Thank you! thank you thank you thank you..

    for saying it, and for saying it so well, thank you.

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