Why does Egypt speak Arabic today and not Egyptian?

Many who are not familiar with Egypt's history and culture wonder why Egypt does not speak Egyptian today and not Arabic. This article tries to answer this question for those who ask it.

The New Kingdom: The Last Empire

Egypt's last purely Egyptian great empire, known as the New Kingdom, lasted from 1567 B.C. to 1085 B.C. During this period Egypt dominated a lot of its neighbors, such as Nubia, and Syria. This was achieved by various means, such as Thutmosis military campaigns, Ramses II's peace treaties, and Amenhotep III's diplomacy via marriage. The riches of Tut-Ankh-Amen are from this period, as well as the religious revolution of Akhnaten, the heretic monotheistic pharaoh.

Even then, the language of diplomacy was not Egyptian, but rather cuneiform. Baked clay tablets from Tell El Amarna are written in cuneiform script, and form the letters sent from/to vassals in Syria.

Decline and Decay

Egypt's decline started after this period, when priests took over, and centuries of weakness and decay ensued. During that time, most of the royal tombs were looted, either bypriests recovering the riches of long gone by pharoahs to prepare thenew ones, or by robbers looking for gold. Egypt came under successive rule from foreign powers, such as the Nubians, the Libyans, the Persians, and the Assyrians.

An interesting observation is that Egypt was never ruled by a native Egyptian from the time of Nectanebo II, c. 343 B.C. down to 1952 C.E. when Mohamed Naguib came to power! That is about 23 centuries!

The Hellenic Era

Then after Alexander conquered Egypt in 323 B.C., the era of Hellenism started, where Egypt was a Greek cultural center. Egypt saw a renaissance, but not an Egyptian one, it was purely a Greek one. The cultural centers of old in the south never recovered their past glory as cities of pharoahs. The Egyptian language fell into disuse: apart from use in liturgy by some priests and a dialect for the peasants. It was not the language of the state, the language of commerce and trade, nor the language of learning.

Roman and Christian Eras

When Christianity came to Egypt, Egypt was already in decline, having came under Roman rule, and later under Byzantium. Egyptians, like others in the area, never liked their Roman overlords, in fact they loathed them.

Under Christianity, there was persecution against the pagans, such as the mob killing of the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia of Alexandria, and the destruction of whatever remained from the Library of Alexandria.

The Arab and Islamic Era

So, Egypt was ready for another era of greatness, but as was true for 1.5 millenia, it would be under a foreign power. The Arabs came in at the invitation of the Egyptians, who loathed the Byzantines. This was a recurring theme in early Muslim conquests, such as that of Julian, the ruler of Cuetta in western North Africa and the supporters of Witiza summoning the Muslim Arabs and Berbers to conquer Iberia (al-Andalus).

Arabic as a Language

As for the loss of language, Arabs/Muslims never enforced Arabic on the population. In fact the process of changing from a minority language to the language of the majority took six centuries to happen.

The simple explanation is that Arabic, being a semitic language, was close to spoken Coptic, and other Semitic-derived languages. This is why areas where a semitic language was spoken (e.g. Nabatean, Syriac, Assyrian, and even Berber) were all easily supplanted by Arabic, while in areas where no semitic language was spoken (e.g. Persia) the native languages persisted.

This is why we see that in Central Asia, India, Malay and Indonesian Archipelago, West Africa, and East Africa, Arabic never took hold as a majority language, despite of a significant portion of the population being Muslims, and a majority in most cases.

Hence, Coptic, the successor to Ancient Egyptian, was relegated to becoming a liturgical only language, and Arabic became the majority language for Muslims and Copts alike.

Greatness and Decay, once again

Egypt was once againt destined to become the leader of a great civilization. The Fatimids build Cairo, and Al Azhar university. Saladin brought the downfall of the Fatimids, but he and his successors, continued to make Egypt a great hub of civilization and learning. After the fall of Baghdad in 1256 C.E. to the Mongol hordes, Egypt became the greatest center in the region, under the Mamelukes. Only after the rise of the Ottomans and their conquest of Egypt in 1517 C.E. did the center of power and greatness shift to Istanbul.





Is it not true that the name MAMLOUK translated by the French from mim mim lam wow kaf (phonetic) must contain a vowel between consonants??!!

Also , is there any documentation on what happened to the Mamlouks that survived the arrival of Mohamed Ali on or about 1800 ?


The Arabic is مملوك and there is no vowel between the two Meems, and the Meem and the Lam.

Only one mameluke who attended the massacre at the citadel in 1811 C.E. survived the massacre. His name was Amin Bey Al-Alfi أمين بك الألفي whose master, Al-Alfi Bey was a mameluke himself He jumped from the citadel and the horse took the fall, and he fled to Syria.
Khalid Baheyeldin

Mamlouks after Mohamed Ali ?

Most of the Mamlouk leaders were assasinated at the Citadel in Cairo, but, the Mamlouks were spread throughtout the Arab peninsula or sub continent. In those days records were not kept and saved as we now do. Most Mamlouks,slaves. came from the circass, Moslems, and from Eastern Europe or the vast area from Russia to the Mongols who moved to eastern Europe were Christians. The lack of records of the Mamlouks can be due to the fact that all Christian Mamlouks had to convert to Islam.  After Mohamed Ali, around 1800 the Mamlouks were no longer a military force. The Moslems, who did not keep a Family surname got lost "in the shuffle" Those Mamlouks that reverted to Christianity kept the surname Mamlouk. To trace geneology is very difficult. My Grand Father was Michel Mamlouk Bey, doctor to the Khedives until 1918/20 Knighted by the First King of United Italy, Head Doctor of the French Hospital in Alexandria, now I believe  a military hospital, and Head doctor for the Egyptian Navy, and yet, in spite of efforts from Gamal Abdel Nassers' brother, Rafik Naser, NO records could be found.

What about the French?

Egypts official language is Arabic but they also speak french. Why is that?

Not correct

Egyptians don't speak French. The most common foreign language that is spoken (and not widely) is English. However, for some official purposes, French is the language to use (e.g. the second language on an Egyptian passport is French, e.g. "Nome" instead of "Name".

This is historical, arising from the mid 19th century, when French was the language of diplomacy of Europe.

If you ask me, it needs to be replace by English now that the latter is the language of business and learning.
Khalid Baheyeldin

I can't tolerate the amount

I can't tolerate the amount of historical errors stated above. This is an article written from an Arab and Islamic perspective.

Blanket statements

Blanket statements like that shows that you have no real arguments, and that you are trying to dismiss the whole matter to bias.

If you have real objective arguments, go ahead and list them.
Khalid Baheyeldin

I see your point. However

I see your point. However Ive heard similar accounts from Coptic Egyptians and they are usually known for being very nationalistic. Of course Egypt is Egyptian and always will be but it has come to mean a nationalitity not a race. Sure some of the socalled facts stated above in this article may be false or milked but the fact of the matter is before Arab/Islamic invasion, Egypt had been invaded by several different civilisations. This doesnt make what the Arabs/Islamic forces did in Egypt good but it has happened and that was several hundred years ago.

My last name is Mamlouk. I

My last name is Mamlouk. I have been trying to figure out exactly what that means in terms of nationality. My parents are from Egypt but beyond that I don't know if I'm really Egyptian, Turkish, Syrian, Iranian, etc. Is there any way to really know? I'm also christian. Some ariticles I have read on the subject say that Mamlouks were not originally muslim but some say they were. How can I trace this back? My family in Egypt are coptic, maybe this is what they were?