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'Brothers' or Others?

'Brothers' or Others?: Propriety and Gender for Muslim Arab Sudanese in Egypt

Anita H. Fábos
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 204
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  • Book Info
    'Brothers' or Others?
    Book Description:

    Muslim Arab Sudanese in Cairo have played a fundamental role in Egyptian history and society during many centuries of close relations between Egypt and Sudan. Although the government and official press describes them as "brothers" in a united Nile Valley, recent political developments in Egypt have underscored the precarious legal status of Sudanese in Cairo. Neither citizens nor foreigners, they are in an uncertain position, created in part through an unusual ethnic discourse which does not draw principally on obvious characteristics of difference. This rich ethnographic study shows instead that Sudanese ethnic identity is created from deeply held social values, especially those concerning gender and propriety, shared by Sudanese and Egyptian communities. The resulting ethnic identity is ambiguous and flexible, allowing Sudanese to voice their frustrations and make claims for their own uniqueness while acknowledging the identity that they share with the dominant Egyptian community.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-024-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Transliteration and Transcription
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Glossary
    (pp. x-xii)

    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-26)

      Are Muslim Arab Sudanese in Egypt living as ‘brothers in a United Nile Valley’,¹ or are they a besieged ethnic minority subject to an increasingly harsh immigration regime? This book suggests that Sudanese ethnicity in Cairo follows from the ambiguous political, legal, symbolic, and social position Sudanese hold in Egyptian society but that it interacts with other social identities deriving from historical processes. It has its basis in Egyptian control of the greater Nile Valley, and the development of a Sudanese national consciousness resisting Egyptian hegemony and built upon the cultural attributes of a narrow elite from a handful of...

    • 2 Being Sudanese in Cairo
      (pp. 27-50)

      Like other members of the Muslim Arab Sudanese diaspora, Sudanese in Cairo are in the process of rethinking the meaning of ‘Sudaneseness’ in the face of ongoing crisis and conflict at home as well as changes in their host country. Historical ties and broad cultural similarities with Egyptian mainstream society have rendered Sudanese in Cairo neither foreigners nor citizens; they are an integral part of Egyptian social, economic, and political life and yet bear a legally ambiguous status. Processes of upheaval within Sudan and between Sudan and Egypt have created conditions of transition for Sudanese in Cairo, between their former...


    • 3 Creating Foreigners, Becoming Exiles
      (pp. 53-76)

      Historical patterns of Sudanese migration to Egypt and their integration into the social fabric of Cairo’s cosmopolitan society are related to the Muslim and Arab regional identities they share with Egyptians. Additionally, Egyptians hold onto a historical memory that frames the territories of northern Sudan as part of a greater Egyptian state. This chapter briefly traces the evolution of both Egyptian and Sudanese nationalisms within this framework of unity. It notes that Nile Valley history has been recalibrated by both Sudanese and Egyptian actors in the context of modernity and the establishment of national boundaries and regulatory institutions. While the...

    • 4 Presenting Sudanese Differences
      (pp. 77-94)

      The previous chapter described the dramatic political changes over the course of the twentieth century that have imposed borders on previously fluid migratory routes and established regulatory frameworks upon the loose ‘denizen’ status for Sudanese in Egypt. Sudanese women and men have experienced these changes differently, as women, and the children they bear with Egyptian husbands, have been able to ‘become’ Egyptian through marriage. Sudanese men, in contrast, are legally marked as Sudanese, since their citizenship (and that of their children) is interpreted in both Egypt and Sudan as the bearer of ethnic identity by reference to Muslim and Arab...


    • 5 Muslim Arab Adab and Sudanese Ethnicity
      (pp. 97-120)

      Sudanese are ambivalent about their place in Egyptian society, since they feel increasingly marginalized legally, politically, and economically despite sharing many commonalities and bonds with Egyptians. In addition to kinship and other ties that link Sudanese and Egyptians, the shared frameworks of Islam, Arab culture, and the Ottoman empire pave the way for present-day loyalties, which endure despite political turmoil between the two countries. These ties may predispose some Sudanese – even if their individual fortunes have suffered from the negative changes in the relationship – to downplay the problems they face in Egypt. Theadabideal, based on behavioural norms of...

    • 6 A Sudanese ‘Culture of Exile’ in Cairo
      (pp. 121-150)

      The circumstances facing Sudanese in Cairo in the mid-1990s, and the various organizations they have developed to address their needs, have created a ‘culture of exile’, rooted in modernity but shaped by the particularities of the history of the Nile Valley and the supranational ideologies of Islam and Arabism. A public discourse around the continuing Sudanese presence in Cairo includes the voices of long-established community associations run by expatriates, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) founded by exiles, each contributing to an imagined Sudanese homeland. The articulation of an ‘authentic’ Sudanese culture implicitly defined by adab is one of the roles of...

    • 7 Gender, Diaspora, and Transformation
      (pp. 151-170)

      The characteristics that underpin Muslim Arab Sudanese identity in Cairo, expressed through theadabdiscourse, have gained more importance for this community in crisis in being harder to fulfil. It is more difficult, and thus more respected, to extend hospitality to guests when one’s pockets are empty and when one’s neighbours are living in equally straitened circumstances. Ideals of modesty are harder for working women to maintain when their jobs keep them late or force them into contact with ‘immoral’ activities such as brewing or drinking alcohol. A Sudanese person who is able to maintain his or her ‘Sudaneseness’ in...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-178)
  10. Index
    (pp. 179-188)