North Africa, West Asia

On patriotism

After living abroad for five years, I found myself asking my mother, who still lives in Alexandria, how she still has this strong patriotic bond to Egypt after all she has seen. عربي

Rockaya Abdel Hady
25 July 2016

A supporter of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi distributes national flags, Cairo, June 2016. Amr Nabil / Press Association. All rights reserved. I recently encountered a couple of situations that made me question how patriotic I am. I grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, and lived there until I was nineteen years old. My childhood was typically upper-middle class; private schools, private sporting clubs as well as private summer rentals were the norm.

Through my encounters with working class Egyptians (shopkeepers, drivers, cleaners, workers), I have always felt that there is a clear divide between the wealthy and the poor - who are the majority of the Egyptian population. This divide, although not the topic of this piece, is a strong reason why I have mixed feelings about how patriotic I am or can claim to be. It affects how strongly I identify myself as an Egyptian and in turn the strength of my patriotism. 

After living abroad for five years, and with all the developments happening in Egypt in recent times, I found myself asking my mother, who still lives in Alexandria, how she still has this strong sense of patriotism after all that she has seen. I asked her what the country or government had done for her in order to be this patriotic.

But should the country or government do anything in order for you to be patriotic? What does it actually mean? Are you born with it? Is it forced upon us citizens? Does it make you a better or worse citizen?

I’ve had a hard time finding out how to define patriotism and trying to differentiate between it and nationalism. I doubt I am the only one. While researching, I have found that philosophers disagree on the existence of any clear difference between these terms.

In a short entry in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Primoratz manages to briefly point out some of the discord authors have regarding the difference between nationalism and patriotism. His is an inclusive definition of the word that encompasses many aspects including: love of one's country, identification with it, and a special concern for its well-being and that of compatriots.

To him the two terms overlap greatly. However, he argues that if we focus on the ethnic or cultural and not the political sense of nationalism, this makes it easier to spot the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Both patriotism and nationalism require love of, identification with, and special concern for a certain entity.

But while in the case of patriotism, that entity is one’s patria, one’s country, "in the case of nationalism, that entity is one’s nation (in the ethnic/cultural sense of the term). Thus patriotism and nationalism are understood as the same type of set of beliefs and attitudes, distinguished only in terms of their objects, rather than the strength of those beliefs and attitudes.”

As such, there is much overlap between country and nation, and therefore between patriotism and nationalism; so that much that applies to one will also apply to the other. But when a country is not ethnically homogeneous, or when a nation lacks a country of its own, the two may part company.

So back to my sense of patriotism. I am honestly a bit unsure of just how ‘patriotic’ I am. I do love my country in the sense that if I find someone bashing it, I get personally offended and try to defend myself, which also indicates that I do identify with it. I feel proud of any Egyptian who accomplishes something great. However, this does not come anywhere near to the feelings my parents or grandparents have for the country.

The older generations have gone through a war, during which patriotic and nationalistic pride were at their all time high. Although the January 25 revolution was a drastic wake-up call to my patriotic emotions, what ensued depleted these emotions.

After some thought, I believe this is due to my frustration and disappointment with the government and its actions since 2011. The revolution sparked so many patriotic sentiments and raised our hopes up incredibly high, so the disappointment of where the country is now is why I have to question my love for it.

I feel frustrated because I know how much potential lies in Egypt and how this potential can make it one of the greatest nations. It is as if the government intentionally wants to show us how incompetent they are. We, the younger generations, have high expectations and want to be able to live in a country that is fair and just.

My education and exposure from travelling and living abroad are a double-edged sword. Frustration multiplies when these hopes and expectations for one's own country are not fulfilled or even close to being fulfilled. 

To conclude, I could say that my patriotic sentiments exist, however, they are curbed by my disappointment. They emerge when I need to ‘defend’ my country against any wrongful slamming, but have trouble emerging in political discussions with fellow Egyptians, and as for my opinions about going back to live in Egypt - well, don't start me on that!  

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