“But you’re dark for an Egyptian”

‘ “What’s your background?”


“oh..The Egyptians I know don’t look like that” ‘

I am forced to be a part of a conversation that sounds like the one above at least once a week. In an attempt to battle the ignorance that I often have to go head-to-head with, I usually respond with something along the lines of “It’s because I am from the south” and am, in return, forced to hear something like:

“Oh … so you’re from Sudan then?”

So now It’s my turn to ask: how does an Egyptian look like?  Because the things I keep hearing – from Egyptians and non-Egyptians alike – insinuate that I don’t look like an Egyptian, that most of them are olive skinned/fair skinned, or that I must be mixed something.

Based on which historically-void theory are people coming to the absurd conclusion that Egyptians aren’t supposed to be black? Or that they’re only supposed to be fair skinned?

In case it has been forgotten or ignored; Egypt is an African country, it neighbors Sudan and has been subjected to ethnic and racial transformations post the rise of the Islamic and Turkish eras (1258 AD and 16th century respectively). Meaning that, in short, Egyptians do vary in appearance, significantly.

So for those who have asked, will ask, want to ask, below is a free history lesson  for your insights and information:

Nubia [Biilad al Nouba,  Arabic], formerly known as the Kingdom of Kush,  are a number of villages located along the southern end of the Nile river, surrounding the Toshka Lakes and Lake Nasser, located more specifically between the cities of Aswan and Abu Simbel. The villages start in southern Egypt and go all the way to Northern Sudan.

The language spoken is Nubian, a no-longer documented language thanks to President Abdul Nasser’s decision to build the high dam over the old region (located east of the current location) and flood the villages, the houses, the libraries and obviously, the history. Due to these politically-motivated changes, the language spoken more commonly now  in the south is Arabic, especially among my generation. My personal belief is that the construction of the dam was a refined (and redefined) form of ethnic cleansing, due to Nasser’s Pan-Arabist views and due to the fact that the Nubians were not considered Arab.

For more information, visit www.thenubian.net, it’s an amazing website about the place, the history, the people and the traditions. On this website, I was happy and surprised to come across a short bio about my own grandfather, Yossef Sombaj. It’s now my go-to website for things that, sadly enough, I don’t know about my own heritage. I blame politics for that.

Marwa Siam-Abdou


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