Blacks in the diaspora often point to Egypt as proof positive that we come from a lineage of Kings and Queens, but the daily reality for many Black Egyptians is far from royal.
According to a new article by Al Jazeera, Black Egyptians and other immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa face daily incidents of racism and prejudice.
After Mohamed Ahmen Mohamed, a Sudanese immigrant, began receiving threatening calls and emails telling him to leave the country he complained to Egyptian authorities. They refused to help him.
Al Jazeera’s Max Siegelbaum found that Mohamed’s ordeal is quite common for Blacks in Egypt.
Black, non-Arab Africans say the case reveals long-standing racism that threatens the security and livelihoods of Egypt’s sizeable sub-Saharan population. While refugees in the country face an overburdened and highly bureaucratic asylum system and aid organisations are underfunded and ill equipped to help them, non-Arab refugees face much more serious problems.
“You can be here 15 years as a recognised refugee and not for a moment of that will you ever be recognised legally or have a home,” said Christopher Eades, director of legal programming at AMERA, a British NGO for refugees.
Aid workers believe sub-Saharan refugees are treated by different informal rules than those of Arab origin – excluded from schools, facing hurdles opening businesses and finding work, and hampered in legal cases.
Black immigrants in Egypt contend the government welcomes immigrants and refugees from other Arab nations, but shuns those from sub-Saharan Africa. Some also argue that aid organizations even treat them differently.
“When there was an influx of African refugees, there was no attention from the NGOs,” said Yagoub Hamdan a Sudanese refugee and community outreach leader at AMERA.
However, when Syrians began pouring into the country in late 2012, the UN set up mobile stations throughout Cairo and the rest of the country, Hamdan pointed out.
“Why did they do that for Syrians when we had the same problem?”
Hamdan and other community organisers say Islamic aid organisations provide ample support to Syrians and Libyans, but rarely to non-Arab Africans.
Christian organizations and smaller Non Government Organizations (NGOs) from outside of the country have pitched in to help, but the problems Black immigrants and Egyptians face persists.
According to Siegelbaum, Black African diplomats and officials also face racism in the country with African officials being told to “keep a distance” from their Egyptian counterparts.
Many argue the cause of racism in Egypt stems from the fact that many Egyptians do not consider themselves to be African at all.
This discrimination finds its was onto the street, and black Egyptians say they encounter constant social hurdles.
Nada Zeitoun, a Nubian filmmaker from the upper Egypt city of Aswan, was recently denied service at a pharmacy in central Cairo because the pharmacist said he “didn’t accept money from black hands”.
Zeitoun exposed the incident on social media and eventually the pharmacist was fired, but she says it was just one example of a broader culture of racism.
“Most Egyptians don’t consider themselves African,” she said.
Although Nubians are among the first inhabitants of what is now considered modern Egypt, “[Egyptian people] don’t believe we have a huge provenance of Nubian people.”
Zeitoun adds: “Even [deposed President Mohammed] Morsi thinks we are foreigners.”
With Egypt currently undergoing yet another revolution, many are wondering if the nation will become more welcoming to its Black population.