Classism and the Country


Having lived in London I’m used to a bit of classism although it was something getting used to coming from Lowlands country where people are much less class aware.  But being in Egypt I have to get used to it all over again it seems.  Here it seems normal not to treat common folk with not too much deference and if you consider yourself to be middle class you show it and shout it out load and proud. In London we are on first-name basis with our lectures, doesn’t really matter if they obtained PhDs or not. Our coordinator in Alexandria is a feisty middle aged Egyptian lady who we British students -that is us lot studying at British universities- call Mona. Everyone else including our lectures call her Madame Mona. During our introduction week she explained  some do’s and don’ts of which some were quite useful. She also said – and I am paraphrasing; ‘I am not classist at all but if you make Egyptian friends ask them where they live. I can tell you exactly from the neighbourhood with what kind of people you’re dealing’. My Fus-ha teacher is a lovely lady who obtained a PhD in the subject of the Arabic cultural heritage in Spain. One day I called her by her first name. She looked at me as if I told her that I just dragged her hijab through some horse dung.  So no first-name basis, Doctora Sumaya it is.

Then another day I met up with a friend who was accompanied by an Egyptian friend. While exchanging pleasantries he told me that he’d had a busy week; he had been going back and forth to Cairo per microbus for his work. I asked him if he was a minibus driver and appearing slightly insulted he replied that he was a lawyer.

I am wondering if this classism is an Egyptian thing or more a developing-country thing. The Egyptians might have inherited it from the Brits during colonial rule and are still rather stuck with it. Or maybe it is because in a developing country it is quite special to belong to the middle classes or the elite. This segment of society is a lot smaller than in developed countries.  Another thing is that Arabs in general don’t do understatement. If you got money you flaunt it, if you wearing make up it’s often a little bit too much for western taste, so if you’re middle class you ain’t gonna hide it.

Would classism in Egypt fade if more people and especially women are educated? Does classism in this country in a way prevent the masses of obtaining an education? Any views anyone?


About Lemba

Non-conformist Writing Soul and Language Geek from the Lowlands with a South London accent, currently living a nomadic, location- independent lifestyle. While executing the Big Fat Writing Plan I’m invading cyberspace with my views on 'expat living', travel and other lifestyle choices, current affairs and other randomness. Welcome to the Dark Fairy Zone.

4 responses »

  1. Very true. Classism in itself might not be the core probleme. The probleme here is that classism in Egypt means automatically different degrees of respect, rights and duties. When it comes to calling people, it is not only Madame or doctora, there are other calling words that reflect a different rank in the social heirarchy.

  2. Hi there

    Thanks very much for your comment. Would you think these different degrees of respect would change if more people would be educated? When the middle classes become a much larger segment of society? I’m very interested in any further views and comments.

  3. Your questions are too big and complicated for me to answer but I would like to draw attentions to some relevant facts:
    1- In the sixties when the society was embracing social concepts and the rate of illetracy was higher, classism was not that felt compared to how it became starting from the 80s. That means education and clasism in the egyptian society are not on two opposite ends.
    2- classism, on the other hand, accompanied the open door policy which led to the appearance of newly rich sector of the society and some sort of nostalgia to pre 1952 Egypt. It was not a coincidence that social ranking names (which were officially banned by the revolution of 1952) started to appear again among the indiviuals of the society such as these words: Beah (bek) or Pasha, and Hanem for ladies. These words are now very widely used to describe individuals according to their social status.
    3- Classism as reflected in the way you can call others open the door to a wide variety of social positions. Ostaz is different from Beah. Pasha is a whole new level. Osta is different from Bashmohandes (the latter is adressed when you want to “upgrade” an uneducated person to give him a fake higher position as a compliment) and so on. Madam is also different from Hanem.
    4- Actually as you might have seen in Egypt middle class does not seem to occupy a bigger segment in the society. On the contrary it dwindles IMO.

    As i said I am just giving some observations. Where will they lead to? I do not know!

    • I really appreciate your observations. This matter seems far more complicated than I imagined and might be quite specific to Egypt instead of a general aspect of a developing country and/or a relic from a colonial past.

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