I have never understood how countries come to be gendered. Some say the methodology is rooted in the feminized term, “motherland;” some say it is because each language contains its own gendered noun endings. Others hold that in traditional English, all countries were ascribed to be feminine. Which of these is accurate, I cannot tell you. Though I will claim that, true to its Arabic roots, Egypt (Misr) —in all the country’s forms and fashions—is a woman.
With her open arms and warm smile, Egypt is the mother that continuously gives even after she has no more. She will wave to you from all sorts of nooks and crannies, beckoning you into her ever-open arms. She fluently speaks in the easily recognizable languages that are love and humanity and kindness. Always wishing good upon even nameless passersby, she plucks the beads of her sepHa in supplication for your good health. She will cook you endless meals of the meat and rice she struggles to earn for, and with her very own two hands, will feed you until you grow comfortably round. In this manner, you become the child she never had and she, in turn, the mother you never thought you would find. Though if you look deeply into her eyes, you will see the grief she does not outwardly show. You will meet her childlike self that she so quickly had to abandon.
Abandoned to the streets of her homeland that forced her to mature before her time, Egypt is also the woman who has no choice but to accept and join society’s whims. By covering and “submitting”—ironically and befittingly — she is seen as prohibited, shunned, inferior.2 She is marked by the stickers that read “mother,” “sister,” and “daughter,” instead of those that read “intelligent,” “resilient,” and “competent.” She is told to retreat to the cage that is the dull, loose fabric, which conceals the very shape that makes her genuinely and wonderfully a woman. Yet herein lies the widespread fallacy that Islam teaches us to veil our women, to have them bow from the sidelines to the public sphere that is labeled for men, and instead busy herself with her children, husband, and parents. Pleasuring without pleasure.
For at a closer lens, Egypt is truly the feminist who fights to carve a place for herself in the very streets that bark and holler in distaste at her presence. Her innate sexuality is often picked and prodded at, as if to awaken her to some sudden gendered realization. Though she treks on—head high, eyes piercing. By choice, she reserves her God-given beauty for only those deserving to see such soul, those who will only value, not vilify. And with her destination in mind, she plows through such obstacles that are strategically placed to prevent her from reaching respect.
Often termed as the revolutionary woman, Egypt knows who she is, what she stands by, and wherein lie her ties and binds. She is culturally conditioned to disregard the disgrace. So she resolutely marches shoulder to shoulder with those men known as the breadwinners, the supposed “fathers” and “change makers” of her same collapsing homeland. Toiling just as tirelessly, she returns home with more than mere financial and material sustenance. She possesses the physical and emotional nurture and control needed to raise and protect her family. Although imbued with her own honorable nature, future generations will bear her husband’s name. Her endowed curves and softness serve to mask her matched “masculine” strength, will, and pride.
But glimpsing outwards from this faithful, firm form you will discover Egypt’s seduction. With strands of hair peeking out of her hijab, the lingerie that openly adorns street corners, and the glimmer of her garments, Egypt will surprise you with her appeal. She will craftily draw you into a society that often preaches prayer, though hypersexualizes quite hypocritically. And even amidst this crooked content, you will inexplicably grow to love Egypt for her spice as much as her singularity.
Embodied within the country and all of her unspecified gender categories are the very qualities that actually make Egypt a woman: at their cores, each of her children are warm and kind, nurturing and natural, faithful and firm, fierce and fighting. In contrast to material circumstance, the doors to their hearts are swung open wide, with abundant space to take you in where you will forever settle. For in all her strife, Egypt somehow succeeds to remain patiently persistent. Utterly and irrevocably human. Humane.
I have always believed that we must accept the world’s failures, the world’s corruption, the world’s hostility and indecency, its inequalities, before we can attempt to achieve change. Just as individuals function, societies, too, are composed of inherent flaws and glitches, which if we instead spend time reforming, there will be no time left for restoring. I have seen Egypt live by this motto. I have seen Egypt refuse to think in the ‘what if’s’ and ‘could haves’ and ‘should be’s.’ I have seen Egypt trudge onwards in the today that does not at all resemble or hint towards yesterday or tomorrow.
While “motherland” is generally the term given to one’s native place of origin, I do not think its boundaries are legitimately defined. My soul belongs here in Egypt, with rounds of the adhan seeping into each day, filling me with beauty and purpose.3 I belong here in the heavily politicized and sexualized environment that I have come to call home. I belong with the trash that trails alongside my every journey and with my sisters on the street in poverty. I belong in the niches in which shine Islam’s light. I belong among the shadows and undertones that are devoid of this light. For just as I am raw and fallibly human in form, Egypt as well is perfectly imperfect. And from her I have been born into a humility I have never otherwise known.