Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Beirut.
On Wednesday 14 April 2021, the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies Seminar hosted Beirut branch director Khaled Ziadeh to give a lecture on identity, using Egypt as a case study.
Ziadeh opened with a set of framing questions: Does national identity derive from humanities, from economics, or from value systems? Did identities take shape with the emergence of nationhood(s) in Europe, or did the idea of nation derive from the rise to prominence of linguistic and cultural identities replacing Latin and Catholicism?
Answers, Ziadeh stated, may vary with the nature of a country’s domestic and foreign constraints and the sea-changes of varying epochs. Accounts of these are all subject to fabrication, manipulation and mythologized hero-worship, as can be seen today in the prominence identities have acquired in the upsurge in Europe of the political right and populist racism. Perception and treatment of identity differs from one generation to the next, depending upon motivations, pressures, and ingrained ways of thinking; hence identity often remains an unstable and artificial construction.
In Egypt, matters of identity are linked with the crystallization of Egyptian patriotism between the 1879-1882 nationalist ʻUrabi revolt and the 1919 revolution. During this epoch debate centered around whether Egypt should belong to an Islamic confederation of some kind or remain free of any association beyond the country’s borders. The 1919 revolution saw the triumph of a preference for the latter, over all other affiliation. Khaled also asserted, however, that Egypt, unaffected by Arab nationalist currents that had arisen emerged in the Arab east (Mashreq), nevertheless both crafted and assiduously led an Arab nationalism with Egypt at its heart, following her 23 July 1952 revolution. Defeat in the June 1967 war concomitantly weakened the notion of an Arab Egypt with the regional rise of Islamic movements. This at a time when the state had already begun promoting the principle of a nation’s interest over that of its belonging, therewith in Egypt’s case isolating the country and diminishing its role.
In his closing remarks Ziadeh drew attention to the spectacular 3rd April 2021 procession of royal mummies through Cairo, highlighting the continuing affiliation of national identity in Egypt with Pharaonic culture. He contrasted this with Lebanon where a Phoenician cultural-historical heritage is not so much in vogue.
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