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In the Arab world, racism targets non-Arabs and the expat majority of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf coming from South Asian (Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) groups as well as Black, European, and Asian groups that are Muslim; non-Arab ethnic minorities such as Armenians, Africans, the Saqaliba, Southeast Asians, Jews, Kurds, and Coptic Christians, Assyrians, Persians, Turks, and other Turkic peoples, and South Asians living in Arab countries of the Middle East.

The previously taboo topics of race and racism in the Arab world have been explored more since the rise of foreign, private, and independent media. In one example, Al-Jazeera's critical coverage of the Darfur crisis led to the arrest and conviction of its Khartoum bureau chief.[1]


Further information: Medieval Arab attitudes to Black people

Medieval Arab attitudes to Black people varied over time and individual attitude, but tended to be negative. Though the Qur'an expresses no racial prejudice, ethnocentric prejudice towards black people is widely evident among medieval Arabs, for a variety of reasons:[2] their extensive conquests and slave trade; the influence of Aristotelian ideas regarding slavery, which some Muslim philosophers directed towards Zanj[3] and the influence of Judeo-Christian ideas regarding divisions among humankind.[4] On the other hand, the Afro-Arab author Al-Jahiz, himself having a Zanj grandfather, wrote a book entitled Superiority of the Blacks to the Whites,[5] and explained why the Zanj were black in terms of environmental determinism in the "On the Zanj" chapter of The Essays.[6] By the 14th century, a significant number of slaves came from either West or Central Africa; Lewis argues that this led to the likes of Egyptian historian Al-Abshibi (1388–1446) writing that "[i]t is said that when the [black] slave is sated, he fornicates, when he is hungry, he steals."[7]


According to Dr. Michael Penn:[8]

Contrary to many present-day stereotypes of early Islam, throughout much of the seventh and early eighth centuries, admission into the umma was reserved exclusively for Arabs. Religious conversion was predicated on ethnic conversion. For a non-Arab to become Muslim, that individual first had to gain membership in an Arab tribe by becoming the mawlā (client) of an Arab sponsor. From a seventh-century Islamic perspective, ethnicity and religion were not independent variables. All Muslims were Arabs, and ideally all Arabs were Muslims.

Accusations against specific Arab governments


Main article: Racism in Iraq

See also: Ba'athism and Slavery in Iraq

According to a statement by Fred Halliday, the Ba'athists in Iraq were inspired by Sati' al-Husri and with rhetoric tinged with pan-Arabism and anti-Iranian sentiment. In the decade and a half after the Ba'ath party came to power, up to 200,000 Feyli Kurds were expelled from Iraq. In claiming to be "defenders of Arabism", Halliday asserts the Ba'ath promoted a myth of Persian migrants and communities in the Persian Gulf region to be comparable to "Zionists" settling Palestine.[9][10]


According to Holly Burkhalter of Human Rights Watch, in a statement made in testimony before the Congress of the United States, "It is fair to say that the Mauritanian government practices undeclared apartheid and severely discriminates on the basis of race."[11]


Main articles: Racism in Sudan and Slavery in Sudan

Beginning in 1991, elders of the Zaghawa people of Sudan complained that they were victims of an intensifying Arab apartheid campaign.[12] Vukoni Lupa Lasaga has accused the Sudanese government of "deftly manipulat(ing) Arab solidarity" to carry out policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur.[13] Alan Dershowitz has pointed to Sudan as an example of a government that deserves the appellation "apartheid",[14] and former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler has also criticized Sudan in similar terms.[15]


See also: Slavery in Egypt

Black Egyptian President Anwar Sadat faced insults of not looking "Egyptian enough" and "Nasser's black poodle".[16] An Egyptian Nubian soccer player Shikabala stopped playing football for some time due to racist slurs by rival Egyptian fans during a game.[17] A group was shouting out "Shikabala" while pointing a black dog wearing the number 10, which was Zamalek football shirt.[18]

According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Black African immigrants to Egypt often face physical violence and verbal abuse at the hands of the general public and law enforcement officials. Refugees from Sudan are especially targeted, with racial slurs like "oonga boonga" and "samara" (meaning "black") constituting the most typical insults. The EIPR attributes the violence and abuse to both a lack of government efforts at disseminating information, raising awareness and dispelling myths with regard to the economic contributions made by the newcomers, and stereotyping on the part of the Egyptian media.[19] Black women are also targets of sexual harassment.[16] As a remedy, the EIPR recommends that the Egyptian government "should intensify and accelerate efforts to combat racist xenophobic views towards migrant workers, especially those of Black African origin, and to promote awareness of their positive contribution to society. The government should train all personnel working in the field of criminal justice and law enforcement officials in the spirit of respect for human rights and non-discrimination on ethnic or racial grounds."[19]

Maghreb (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya)

See also: Slavery in Morocco, Slavery in Tunisia, Slavery in Algeria, and Slavery in Libya

In March 2011, officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed allegations of discrimination by Tunisia against black Africans.[20] Black Africans were reportedly targeted by rebel forces during the Libyan civil war in 2011.[21][22][23]


Author draws parallel between Arab nationalism and Turkish nationalism, both were "likewise evolving into the "racial" stage, the ideal being a great "Pan-Arab" empire, embracing not merely the ethnically Arab peninsula-homeland, but also the regions of Mesopotamia, The Levant, Egypt, Tripoli, North Africa and the Sudan."[24]

A writer on the Durban conference regarding racism suggests: That stressing out that "Arabism is racism" would have been an interesting debating topic. Yet, he adds that "the OIC countries were very clever in how they deflected the slavery issue that could so easily have been turned on them with a vengeance."[25]

Some Muslim activists have also expressed that "Arabism is racism, pure and simple."[26] There was Sheikh Mustafa al-Maraghi, who in a famous 1938 essay dismissed the goal of [pan] Arab unity as racist.[27]

Arab Muslim authors in "Arab-Iranian relations":

Much ink has flowed on the issue of Arab nationalism. Some people believe it to be a racist movement, advocating the superiority of the Arabs.[28]

Ali A. Allawi, the former Iraqi Minister of Defense and Finance, envisioning a peaceful Iraq: "Arabism, racism and sectarianism – would be dethroned. Iraq would be at peace with itself and with its region."[29]

In 1960's, the French Comite d' Action de Defense De- mocratique published a pamphlet titled Racism and Pan-Arabism, its introduction followed by an article by the well known French sociologist, anthropologist & political leader: Jackes Soustelle to fight against all kinds of racism, this was followed by a paper by Shlomo Friedrich on "Pan-Arabism: A New Racist Menace?" who offered a sharp critique of Nasser's book The Philosophy of the Revolution, and it terms it a mere pale imitation of Hitler's Mein Kampf.[30]

Racism – overview

Some charge that "ultra-Arabism and Jihadism have been responsible for widespread persecution and genocide." such Saddam's using chemical weapons and gas against the Kurds during the bombings of Halabja in northern Iraq. "The Kurds, a non-Arab people whose language belongs to the Iranian group, have suffered from persecution under the Baath of Iraq and Syria, especially since the departure of British and French forces in the late 1940s." (Kurds are also claiming rights in Iran and Turkey.) The Berbers, the pre-Arab native peoples of North Africa, have been victimized by the Arabs in North Africa.[31]

There are historic racial divisions,[32] racial and religious prejudices in Iraq, including on Kurds, on Shia and the Marsh Arabs.[33]

Affected victims

In Sudan, including the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region, from 1955 to 2005, it is estimated that nearly 4 million black people were killed or ethnically cleansed. During the Second Sudanese Civil War, about 2.5 million people were killed in attacks widely regarded as racially motivated against black indigenous Africans.[34]

Racism has been documented in Libya,[35] including the 2000 anti-African racist violence.[36] They have reported facing racism in the country, with one witness reporting being called a "slave" and "animal."[37][38] From the start of Libyan Civil War in 2011, blacks were massacred for their skin color according to an Amnesty International report.[39][40]

In Algeria victims of racism include Sub-Saharan immigrants who suffer daily from verbal attacks and other forms of discrimination. Many Sub-Saharan immigrants find themselves on the street due to lack of public resources. The homeless immigrants often quote the Quran in an effort to appeal to the country's Muslim unity and divert attention from their race.[41] On the world stage the country has declared that members of its national football team must undergo a stricter selection process if they possess dual citizenship to ensure their loyalty to the country.[42]

Some of the persecuted victims of racism and discrimination in the Arab world include: Sub-Saharan Africans in Egypt,[43] including on Eritreans,[44] and oppressing Darfurian refugees,[45] Algeria, Mauritania – fighting off racist policies in these countries,[46][47][48] in Iraq where blacks face racism,[49][50] Kurds in Syria and in Iraq,[51][52][53][54] Copts,[55] it worsened under pan-Arabism by Nasser and with the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood.[56][57][58] Al-Akhdam in Yemen,[59] as well as slaves who fight the stigma of their status as 'slaves' in impoverished Yemen,[60] Persians' historic struggle against the 'Arab supremacy,'[61] Berbers in North Africa (Moroccos, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya ),[62][63][64][65][66] South Asians and Southeast Asians (migrant workers and maids in the Gulf Arab nations),[67][68][69][70] Jews (see: Antisemitism in the Arab world, in a 2009 PEW poll, 90% of the Middle East were found to view Jews unfavorably).[71] Although slavery was officially abolished in 1981, a 2012 CNN report suggested that 10% to 20% of the Mauritanian population was enslaved with a correlation with skin color – darker-skinned Mauritanians were often enslaved by lighter-skinned.[72]

See also


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