The Revival of the Language and Culture of the Ethnic Sa’idi People

  • January 19, 2021      Friendly Borders Staff

Cairo – The Sa’idi people are from Upper Egypt and are known to be culturally conservative. The people’s practices, traditions, and beliefs are different from the ones observed in the Northern region and the Egyptian capital, Cairo. What exactly brought about this kind of resistance from the majority?

Throughout history, Upper Egypt has kept its autonomy from the central government, which may have been facilitated by the geographical features brought by the Nile Valley. The Delta has been more exposed to foreign influences than the seemingly isolated region of the Nile Valley.

Also, there are the cultural and religious aspects that are distinct from those of the Nile Delta and Cairo. However, this concept of regional distinction and specificities is surprisingly new. Many intellectuals did not focus on those aspects as they looked into the lifestyle of the Sa’idi. It is time now to have a better understanding of the local communities and their people’s identity.

Revival and Preservation

Despite being culturally conservative, there has been a decline in the continuity of the ethnic practices of the Sa’idi. This change is due to the closing gap between neighboring regions. A good thing to come out of this change is that the local people are beginning to see the importance of keeping their ethnic identity intact.

The new focus is the reexamination of the Upper Egyptians’ regional history. This study can help researchers better understand how the communities in the area lived then and now.

Aside from a fresh look at the regional history of the Upper Egyptians, there is a distinct aspect of the Sa’idi identity engraved in their language. The use of their native Sa’idi language is essential in keeping their ethnic identity.

An interesting feature of Sa’idi Arabic is that it is a variety of spoken speech that shares features with Egyptian Arabic. However, upon a closer inspection, the language has more similarities to the Quran’s classical Arabic. This element is why speakers of Egyptian Arabic may not understand the traditional varieties of Sa’idi Arabic.

Aside from these differences, the Sa’idi community’s tribal nature affected the usage and linguistic nuances among the sub-dialects. Many of the sub-dialects among the Upper Egyptian groups has hints of influences from Libyan Arabic, Hejaz, Hejazi Arabic, and even the Maghreb.

Despite the regional nuances, the main problem arose from the fact that younger generations of the Sa’idi people can now only speak Egyptian Arabic. The communities may have kept their cultural ties to their traditional practices, but this is not easily reflected in their language use. This situation is due to the need for their people to reach and communicate with more regions across Egypt brought by both economic and societal influences.

Thus, the new view on the rich cultural aspects of the Sa’idi people’s identity must be getting attention. Preservation of the Sa’idi language is also a hopeful step in maintaining the unique ethnic identity of the Upper Egyptians. This ethnic revival is necessary so that their language and culture can be passed on to the next generations. It is also an opportunity for the Sa’idi to reintroduce their indigenous culture to the rest of Egypt.

Image from Vincent Battesti,

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