ISLA 210 Lecture Notes - Leila Ahmed, Arab Nationalism, Egyptians
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FEBRUARY 8, 2012: Conference
Film: FOUR WOMEN OF EGYPT:
The movie is about four women, some were Muslim (one was very strict and
traditional, ex. One wore a traditional headscarf, the other did not) and one was
Christian (quiet, out of touch with the other women→ likely due to discomfort). They
went back and forth between French (at least 2 of them spoke French), English, and
Egyptian Arabic. The woman who only spoke French was elite (French school
growing up), the woman who wore the scarf probably came from the upper middle
class and her father could have been a doctor or an engineer. She would not have been
elite because she didn’t go to French or English school, but she had some familiarity
with the language.
Nariman Youssef saw the events that followed Mubarak’s resignation as equally as
important as Tarir Square because it was a continuation→ change needs to occur after
the resignation. The revolution was more about changing people than it was about
governments. It was more internal than external (changing perspectives).
1) Leila Ahmed ties the effects of the Nasserist revolution (on her) to the
Arabic language in an interesting way. Please read from page 147-148
where she talks about her experience with her Arabic teacher at school
after Nasser has come to power. What do you make of this passage? What
does it tell you about the link between Egyptian nationalism and language
in general? And the link between language, Egypt, and the Palestine
Problem in particular?
She is describing her feelings at the time and providing background context on
why the racism happens. She presents her feelings about learning Arabic as if it
was fact, but it is her judgements through her own experience, not the language
itself (ex. It is not just all about endless lists of grammar.) She talks a lot about
her “Arabness” as well throughout the book. It holds negative connotations for
Arabic, it is associated with ignorance, non-Europeanness, lower-class servants,
it is associated with the uncivilized.
Nasser was the great figure of Egyptian nationalism, and when he came into
power he made Arabic mandatory in schools (an important step in Arab
nationalism). Before that, the English or French schools operated as if they were
in England or France. This policy was effective in uniting the population and it
was a further step to eradicate the European presence and influence over
Egypt→ created unity.
Leila Ahmed didn’t have an Egyptian identity. (She spoke French with her nanny,
English with her friends at school, and spoke Arabic with the servants and her
family. She didn’t understand Turkish at all.) She is forced to choose between
her identities and seems to choose English (an unconscious decision). She talks
about an inferiority complex that she associates with Arabic, so she chooses to
speak English. Her older brothers and sister choosing English and going to
England before her influenced her decision. She identifies more with England,
and she doesn’t know any Arabic literature at all, she only knows English
authors because until Edward Said’s orientalism there was no discussion of
“Arabness.” The languages are also associated with different cultures→ she is
not just choosing between languages, she is choosing between cultures and
lifestyles as well.
It is significant that the teacher is a Palestinian because Nasser was really upset
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