Egypt, the most populous Arab country in a region undergoing violent upheaval, is facing major challenges on multiple levels. Egypt is “a country at war with itself”, says the Guardian review of “Clash,” the opening film at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. As brutal as it sounds, this statement rings absolutely true. Observing Egyptian society today and how it is divided in ways that I cannot identify, along lines that I can intuitively sense but not articulate, I decided to dig in and explore the roots of these divisions.
After close observation of Egyptian society in the aftermath of the so-called Arab spring, it became evident that strong divisions exist within families, within close circle of friends and among groups with similar if not identical formative education. A middle- and upper-class society that has been marked by laughing its troubles away, in which harmony and amicability have been the cornerstones of the value system, has suddenly become unable to get on. At family gatherings, parties, and social events, the hosts now often proclaim at the start of any event that there should be no talk about politics. But it is not just politics; any mention of the daily happenings of Egyptians stirs the most outrageous allegations and insults and the bitterest rows. Disagreements are not only overwhelmingly violent but occur between people who have been otherwise naturally and historically aligned. The new differences are perceived as irreconcilable by many of the protagonists. What are the roots of these divisions? Have they always existed, or have new occurrences triggered these deep divisions?
My thesis explores the dynamics and processes surrounding a newly defined dividing line: that of narratives. An analysis of narratives provides a different lens by which the conflicts in society can be understood. Narratives form a boundary within which Egyptians converge and form groups that share a value system, conventions and a perception of reality particular to them. The submerged differences between those narrative groups account for growing apathy as well as increased conflict, and they severely impair communication.
My analysis, based on ethnographic methods, reveals three narrative groups that dominate Egyptian discourse. They have different conventions, generate different meanings from events, and assign goodness to diverse values. As a result, communication among them is fundamentally impaired and ineffective. I conclude that the clashes within Egyptian society today are not only generational, or ideological, or sectarian, but also between different cultures. They are intercultural clashes.
Amira Berzi was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt and has also lived in U.A.E. She studied physics at the American University in Cairo. Since 2004 she has lived near Zurich with her Spanish husband. She completed her Masters in Intercultural Communication in December 2016 at the Università della Svizzera Italiana. Amira speaks four languages and is the mother of two Swiss children (who are also Spanish and Egyptian). She became Swiss herself in 2015. If you wish to access more information on Amira Berzi’s thesis, please contact her.