Editor: Edu Kenedi
“Egypt for Egyptians” trends on Twitter as pushback against continuous efforts to spread Afrocentrism in the country rises. From Netflix’s Cleopatra to comedian Kevin Hart, Egypt’s battle against this philosophy has infiltrated various societal institutions. Afrocentrism is the social or political concept created to combat Eurocentrism, by promoting the ideology that historic kingdoms were of African origin, and Black people today are descendants of such powers.
Egypt’s campaign to reclaim its history, global standing, and power, has included efforts to promote its culture and history through the building of a new national museum, investments in the cultural centers of Luxor and Aswan, and much more. Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is committed to highlighting Egyptian history and advertising it to not only boost tourism but also strengthen Egyptian nationalism. Afrocentrism is seen as a direct threat to this narrative, as Egyptians believe it to be “rewriting their history.” Egyptians have long struggled to distance themselves from their African identity, and lean into their “Arabness.” Opponents of Afrocentrism feel as though the ideology discredits Ancient Egyptians and furthers a new Western agenda based on theories rather than factual information.
This past year, Netflix released a limited series, Cleopatra, with Adele James, a Black actress, as the lead. Although Cleopatra’s lineage is unknown, history has proclaimed her to be fair-skinned with Mediterranean features. Her ancestry tends to be tied back to Greece and Macedonia, with no connection to African heritage. Backlash roared through the country, sparking a global debate as to whether or not Egyptians’ frustration was rooted in racism, or a genuine belief and desire to preserve their history. Afrocentrists argue that Egyptian anger is embedded in racism or colorism, yet social scientists have claimed the Afrocentrist argument should not be tied to race, as the definition of race as we know it today is inapplicable to this ancient era. While Egypt geographically lies in Africa, it is predominantly considered to be a part of the Middle East. Reconciling the two, while also confronting an attempt to rewrite history, has proven extremely difficult amidst the spread of Afrocentrist beliefs.
In 2023 on two occasions, private events were canceled due to suspicions of the performers’ Afrocentrist beliefs. Kevin Hart was accused of claiming Egyptian history as Black history and banned from conducting his comedy show. Later in the summer of 2023, rapper Travis Scott was set to debut his new album, Utopia, at the Pyramids in Giza, yet the concert was unexpectedly canceled, again due to Afrocentrist suspicions. Egyptians argued that the distortion of their character and history was not to be promoted and allowed, especially in a significant venue such as the Pyramids.
Afrocentrism, in its origins, was not created to combat North African cultures or undermine history, but rather to combat Western racism and history. While Egyptians are African, Afrocentrist arguments are weak in defining what that truly means. An Egyptian can claim to be African, but can they claim to be African-American if they live in the US? Can they connect with Black history even if they are not Black? Tying Afrocentrism to race is where the controversy lies as the sociological idea of race is too ambiguous and ill-defined to form the basis of this theory.
The question arises as to whether or not Afrocentrist interpretation of Egyptian history is based in any truth, and if not, how can the Egyptian government combat it? If found to be true, how will Egyptians react to what is essentially a rewriting of their history?