White Society

Anyone coming to the Middle East thinking that they are entering into a more Muslim-friendly place is in for a rude awakening. Especially when one looks at the expat societies of westerners who have come, whether for economic or philanthropic reasons, to the ‘heathen lands.’ International companies often have no hijab/beard policies and Egyptian companies mostly have no beard policies. To wear either, to them, means that you are less intelligent, less worthy, less competent at your job and therefor unemployable.

Expat societies are even worse. You can see them all the time walking around in Maadi, pasty white, usually carrying umbrellas, grouped together into nervous herds of touristic tendency, standing bewildered on street corners. They attempt to immerse themselves in local culture while at the same time keeping it at arms length, congratulating themselves when they thank the waiter in his native language and figuring that it makes them more endearing to have lowered themselves enough to speak the heathen tongue. No matter how many years have passed since the revolution the British still come here with the same attitude as they did when it was a colony, and Egypt has since never been able to fully shake the colonized mentality. Young Egyptian business women throw off the chains of oppression and submit themselves instead to the chains of western fashion, speaking English, driving foreign cars, looking down on anything too Egyptian.

Thats why companies here carry the no Islam policies, to better endear themselves to their western financiers.  As if in order to make it in this world you must needs be like them and abandon all vestiges of your ethnicity. It is better on all accounts to be, look, and act like you’re white.

But I’m white, you see, and its not enough. I’m white but I’m not a foreigner here. I may not speak Arabic, but I’m not really an expat. I wear the hijab, I’ve gone “mooslim”… I’ve gone ‘native.’

I was interviewed at a posh British private primary school in Maadi a few days ago. On paper I looked perfect: American, Anglo name, Western B.A. and in living in Egypt; but unfortunately when I showed up for the appointment I broke the illusion. Walking around the school and observing a party for the employees first day back I saw nothing so much as a large group of British people standing around and congratulating each other on still being British.

“Did you have a good holiday?” “Yes, it was wonderful to be back home.” “Oh, I stayed here for the summer.” A faint look of horror crosses the face the other woman. “Did you really? And you survived?” “Well yes, it was dreadful but I spent most of it in Dahab and Sharm.”

As far as I could tell very few of the teachers and TA’s were Egyptian, that was reserved for the janitorial staff and those who were serving the food. The few Egyptians I did see employed as something other than chattel were Egyptian Christians and as such less distasteful for employment. I was eyed mostly as if I were an oddity. White, un-accented English, but quite obviously gone over to the other side. This of course while I was dressed in a pinstripe suit jacket, a tailored skirt, and my headscarf wrapped unobtrusively into a knot at the back of my head.

When I got the call later that the position was given to someone else, I wasn’t too terribly surprised, even though I knew that there were at least two other open positions in the school.

I don’t belong to their white society.


9 responses to “White Society

  1. I experienced the same thing when I applied for school jobs in Egypt. They would be excited by my resume, and then would ask me to send a picture. Yeah, um, nothing after that. As such, I ended up moving to Minneapolis where I can happily wear my hijab at work 😀

    Hope things improve for you soon inshaAllah.

  2. yes, I miss the good ole US of A where I can sue the shit out of people like these.

  3. assalamu alaykum…

    just wanted to mention… you have to just feel sad for these kinds of people and walk with your head high you are not stuck with them every day in THAT kind of school. I had an interview once with a school, and because of niqab, they considered me Egyptian hahahaha and wanted to pay me 1000 pounds. Now I stay home and drink tea. Anyway, some of my friends have told me if I want to teach, in shaa Allah they could help me, I am not sure of the details, but if your interested send me a PM.

    Take it easy 🙂

  4. God, it’s really sad, isn’t it? Their loss.

  5. A good example of the paradix of the white convert and white privledge.

  6. White Culture as you call it is precisely that – a set of norms and conventions which connect those who share them and through which they recognise each other. Since it is relationally constituted – at least, when it comes to dealing with others – if you no longer possess the attributes of your birth culture that mark you out as one of them then you technically won’t be deemed to share it. The truth is that most people are tribal and exclusive by nature and have an irritating tendency only to want to socialise with their ‘own kind’. In that sense, I suppose, your act of cultural ‘betrayal’ has put you beyond the pale, despite the fact that the Anglo-American liberal model is supposed to create a society in which we are free to differ. Interesting. Just watch out that you don’t end up falling down the cracks between the two and never fitting into either. BTW expats everywhere are pretty much horrendous, in my experience. Moreover, there’s normally a pretty good reason WHY they are expats, if you see what I mean!!! Hope it all sorts itself out

  7. I agree with mamamona, it is sad. Insha’Allah something better will come along for you

  8. I keep telling my hubby -why are Egyptians ashamed of being Egyptians? and Muslims (for those who are)?

    Its those expats that are missing out on a lot, not you. Their loss.

    And this is only in Maadi, I wonder how they would be like in Kafr el Sheikh 😛

  9. Salaams Sis:

    Maybe it’s not so much that you’re not “part of white society” but maybe that you’re part of Muslim society.

    I’m sorry that you had such an awful experience. Allah (swt) will reward you with better, Insha Allah 🙂

    I’ll bet you’re looking forward to Ramadan in a “Muslim” society. I have heard that it is wonderful.

    BTW, if you read “Living Life and Loving It” blog, she has had numerous experiences similar to yours. In the end, she got great jobs though, Alhamdulillah! She’s in Doha now. Hang in there dear 🙂

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