History, patience and fatalism in Egypt

Cultural Insights — By on November 18, 2008 at 5:10 pm

Egypt has a history that stretches back thousands of years. It’s a boon for the tourist industry, which draws millions of annual visitors to the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings and other such sites, but the country’s long past also has an interesting cultural influence as it seems to induce a sense of fatalism in the people. That’s the topic of a recent essay on Egypt by Michael Slackman in the International Herald Tribune.

Cairo is a city of about 18 million people that is layered with history stretching back to the birth of civilization. The ubiquitous nature of antiquities – stick a shovel in the ground almost anywhere, and it is difficult not to find something – has helped mold a collective consciousness, a national identity, that is uniquely Egyptian…

Egyptians, as a group, are extremely patient, though given the growing pressure of daily life, a bit less than they used to be. Their it-is-what-it-is attitude is often attributed to a strong religious faith and a conviction that all events are God’s will.

Yet growing up and living amid so much history has something to do with that view, too; the abundant antiquities in everyday life are a constant reminder of one’s place in time.

People come and go, pharaohs come and go, even President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 27 years, will go, too (though talk of that certainty is discouraged).

No need to worry.

Or as Egyptians like to say, “Maalesh,” which, depending on the circumstance, means “Never mind” or “Oh, well.”

“When other people talk about hoping to see something happen soon, they probably mean within the next few months,” said Aly Salem, an Egyptian playwright. “For an Egyptian, it could mean in the next 50 or 60 years. An Egyptian has a particular pace. His pace is different than an American’s. And a long history can do this.”

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