Are Egyptians Arabs?

I thought I read somewhere that Egyptians were not technically Arabs, and that indeed they did not like being called Arabs.

But, come to find out the official name of the country (in English) is “Arab Republic of Egypt.”

What’s the straight dope?

The term ‘Arab’ refers to the culturally related groups in the middle-east who speak Arabic, the Egyptian’s main languge is Arabic (though there other groups in the country who do not speak Arabic and therefore are not usually identified as Arabs) and thus they are Arabs.

I find it highly unlikely that in the birthplace of pan-Arabism the population would not identify themselves as Arabic so:

You are probably getting Egypt mixed-up with Iran, where the main language is Farsi not Arabic and much to their annoyance Iranians are frequently and incorrectly described as Arabs.

Or you could be thinking of the Christian Copts who inhabit Egypt who speak Arabic (and Coptic) but are not usually identified as Arabs (having been an identifable part of the population before the area was invaded by the Arabs).

The term “Arab” is generally applied to people who speak Arabic. It’s more a linguistic than ethnic category, although there is quite a bit of overlap. Egyptians speak Arabic and so one might reasonably call them Arabs. But Arabic is not indiginous to Egypt, so go back far enough in time and it wouldn’t make sense to do so.

I am just guessing, but there are ethnic groups like the Bedouin who might not really consider themselves Arab.

Correct. This isn’t an easy question, since language and ethnicity aren’t the same thing. Yet the label ‘Arabic’ is usually used to describe people who speak Arabic regardless of their actual background. In case of Egyptians the matter is even more complicated as the population is a mixture, and still has very much in common with ancient Egyptians. When you look up them in dictionary the ethnicity is described as Eastern Hamitic (non-Arab) and that’s what their background is, but sometimes having Semitic features (like Arabs). On the other hand, everyone can remember the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria not so long ago.

They’re in fact among the most “Arab Arabs”, having migrated in as a group from Arabia and Syria and probably not outmarrying a great deal ( except perhaps w/equally tribal Berber elements ) :).

Already well-populated Egypt did not experience a great deal of Arabian immigration overall. Mostly just the garrison force at Fustat and the later Bedouin migration into the semi-desert Hawf districts on either side of the Nile in Lower Egypt. So really the difference between Arabic-speaking Muslims and Arabic ( and Coptic )-speaking Copts in Egypt comes down almost wholely to religion and related social status, not any sort of “ethnic” difference. In fact Arabic spread rather more rapidly in Egypt than Islam. And as noted, these days the definition of “Arab” generally refers to any native speaker of Arabic ( of any of numerous dialects ).

  • Tamerlane

The Bedouin are Arab speakers, infact it’s quite common for the Bedouin to say that they are the only true Arabs as the language orginated with them.

Yes. I think ratatoskK may well have intended to say “Berbers” rather than Bedouin.

Ok, so to summarize the short answer to the question, “are Egyptians Arabs?”, is, “it all depends.”

The longer answer is, the majority of Egyptians who speak Arabic self-identify as Arabs. Although the term “Arab” may be used to refer to an ethnic group, the more commonly used definition these days focuses on one’s native language, not one’s ancestry. Whether or not modern Egyptians are part of the “Arab” ethnic group is–judging from the posts in this thread–a somewhat complicated question.

But it is clear that they speak Arabic (or more precisely, a dialect of Arabic) as their native language, and therefore should be called Arabs.

MC perhaps you are right that I got thrown off by the example of the Iranians. I was aware that most (all?) Iranians are not Arabs, don’t speak Arabic (as their native language anyway) and don’t like it when people assume that they are Arabs. Somehow I thought there was a parallel between the Egyptians and the Iranians in that regard, but I was obviously mistaken.

There are in fact some “Iranian Arabs” in the sense of Iranian nationals that speak Arabic as their first language ( most prominently in the southwestern province of Khuzestan ), but they form only a small proportion of Iran’s population ( maybe 1% ).

Not to belabor the point, but this in fact is almost exactly backwards. As the most densely populated and most centrally located Arab country, Egypt actually exerts a great deal of cultural influence on the rest of the Arab world and Egyptians are well aware and proud of this fact.

Most of the important socio-political trends in the Arab in the 20th century either originated in Egypt or underwent crucial development there. This includes both the dominant political paradigm of the 60’s and 70’s, quasi-socialist secular pan-Arab nationalism, articulated as “Nasserism” ( after it’s most ardent and aggressive advocate, Egyptian president Gamal-Abdel Nasser ) and Islamism, in both its violent and non-violent forms, which was probably more heavily influenced by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and, even more particularly, the writings of Sayyid Qutb, than any other single source.

  • Tamerlane