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.




Egyptian are mixed arab as the rest of other arab

Most Egyptians now are proud to be classified as Arab.

I do agree that Egyptian is product of mixture of different ethnicity including Arab. However, I don't agree that we should call the culture of Gulf Arab the real Arab.

Gulf Arab are also mixed by their culture and have big influence from India, Persian, Turkish and even African.

Most Arab now are mixed even if they don't admit it and that's include Gulf Arab and Saudi Arabian.

Saudi Arabia is different from all other Arab countries because when Wahabi movement started in Saudi they erase every signs and single thing related to any civilizations including Arabic and

Egyptians speak arabic

Egyptians speak arabic because the muslims from saudi arabia took over egypt and changed the major language from coptic(egyptian) to arabic. Egypt was primarilly christian before the take over and after the take over the christians paid a tax for the religion or they were killed or forced to become muslim. Those in egypt today who are christian descended from the pharohs or the royal family since they had the money to pay the tax.

Delusion or revisionism?

You can believe any delusion you want to believe, or try to rewrite history. What you said is devoid of any historical facts and is full of prejudice.

Egypt was only Christian for a few centuries. From the dawn of history till the 3rd century BC, it had a polytheistic national religion that had shifting centers and deities. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, there was a period of Hellenization where the Greek religion and the Egyptian one merged. Shortly after, Egypt fell under Roman rule, and only became Christian for a few centuries. Egypt broke off from practically all other churches before the Nicene creed was developed, and had its own Pope to this day.

The Arab conquest was largely initiated by the Copts themselves, who asked the Arabs' help to free them from the Byzantines. After the Arab conquest, the majority of Egyptians remained Copts for at least three centuries.

Your claim that the present Copts are descendants of the royal family is absurd to say the least. There was not a single dynasty that ruled Egypt, but actually a whole 30 of them.

Some were Syrians (Hyksos), others were Libyans, Nubians, Assyrians, Persians and finally Macedonians. A family's rule would end when an army general deposes them and establishes himself (e.g. Horemheb), or when an invading army establishes its leader as the ruler, usurping the pharaoh title (Hyksos, Libyans, Nubians, Alexander).

The last native Egyptian pharaoh to rule Egypt was Nectanebo II (343 BC). It took till 1952 AD for another Egyptian (Mohamed Naguib) for another native Egyptian to rule Egypt.

So tell me again, where is the historical fact in Copts being the descendants of Pharaoh's?

As for Copts being forced to convert on the pain of death, this is another historical lie. You may like to feel that you belong to an oppressed and martyred sect, but the reality is very different. First, the existence of Christians today in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East after 14 centuries of Muslim rule is a testament to the tolerance of Islam and Muslims. Compare that to wiping out Muslims in Spain and Portugal after Catholicism took over in less than one century. Second, oppression did happen, but it was always when Muslims suffered equally under the oppressor. For example, see what history has recorded about Al Hakim bi Amr Allah, Fatimid Caliph of Egypt and his eccentric behavior. Apart from that blip in history, there was no forced conversions in Egypt.

You can try all you want to freeze Egypt's history to the period that suits your biases, but the truth is far complicated than that, and to the contrary of what you want others to believe.
Khalid Baheyeldin

Mohamed Naguib

Mohamed Naguib was the general that "fronted" the real dissidents lead by Gamal Abdel Nasser. When Farouk left Egypt, with full Military Honors, on his "Yacht" to his favoritem play grounds, Rome Paris, Monte Carlo, but his residence was Rome,. where he died it is said from over eating spaghetti !!! Gamal Abdel Nasser was named President and Mohamed Naguib was removed and n placed under house arrest. This is not hearsay but I lived through that period, be it that I was in the US army....

What Baheyeldin says about

What Baheyeldin says about Egypt is correct, however, that ALL the Mamlouks were killed by Mohamed Ali, is wrong. Those Mamlouks that were "bought" and sold to the Ayubids,I think, who came from the Circass were Moslems, those who were bought from Georgia and and other Eastern European countries such as the Russian stepps, were mostly Christians and converted to Islam, then after Mohamed Ali conquest, some reverted to their original Religion, Christianity. Those Mamlouks in Syria or Lebanon became Maronites, others, Greek Catholics some became Greek Orthodox. Moslems did not hold a family name, JUST first names of Son, Father and Grand Father.
As for French being the Official Language, it was, until about 1945, after the Second World War. I was born in 1924 and lived through it .
When I first left Egypt in 1948, I was only allowed a Laisser Passer,I was considere an "Osmanli" had to apply for an Egyptian passport in 1948 and quickly lost my Egyptian Nationality because I served in the US Army from 1948 to 1952

your wrong.

egyptians speak french. nice try though.


is it true that cleopatra was of greek descent


Technically, she was Macedonian by descent, having descended from Ptolemy I Soter, one of the general in Alexander the Great's armies, and one of his successors.

She spoke Greek, since that was the language of Macedonia at the time, being part of the Hellenic sphere of influence. She must have spoken Egyptian as well, being born and raised in Egypt, and reigning over them as Queen.

Egyptians were forced to speak Arabic

I'm afraid this is inaccurate. Arabic was forced on the Egyptian population. Various Arab rulers persecuted the local Christian (Coptic) population. There were waves of mass forced conversion on pain of death or coercive means, such as the requirement to pay the Jizia tax or the exclusion from professional and high-status jobs. When Copts converted to Islam, they lost their native language and were forced to adopt Arabic, the language of the Quran. Even those Egyptians who remained Christians were forced to give up their language for a variety of reasons e.g. Arabic became the language of administration, of senior jobs, and of the elite - to not know Arabic was exclude yourself and your family from a comfortable life. There was even a decree by one despotic Arab ruler that no-one should speak Coptic would have their tongue cut off. It's wasy to see why over time, Coptic was lost.

Please read about the history of Egypt and the manner in which Arabic and Islam were spread. Do not believe the biased ramblings of this pro-Arab pro-Islamic poster.

No references?

Likewise, I can say that you are a pro-Coptic poster whose comment is obviously biased.

The only instance in Egyptian Islamic history where there was forced coercion to convert was during the rule of Al Hakim bi Amr Allah, who was mentally unstable and Muslims, including his own staff, suffered from his eccentric behavior.

The fact that Copts exist today in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab region among a Muslim majority speaks for itself. Compare that to other places where Christian rulers forced others to convert and you will know what I mean. Examples are Sicily, Malta, Spain, Portugal, Philippines, South and Central America, among others. There is little evidence in all these areas of the pre-Catholic religion of the people.

Can you cite credible historic references for forced conversions other than this instance?