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?