Egypt/ 5.1 General legislation  

5.1.9 Language laws

Egypt has no linguistic diversity resulted from different ethnic groups or nationalities, with the exception of Nubians who have their own unwritten language and some Amazigh who live in Siwa and Bahareya oases. The Coptic language however is the ancient Egyptian language which is still the language of the Coptic Orthodox Church ceremonies. Hence there are no language protection laws in Egypt and article two of the constitution stipulates that Arabic is the official language of the state.

The Academy of Arabic Language was established in Cairo on 13 Dec. 1932 during the reign of King Fuad I and it became operational in 1934 and it was headed by the following professors:

  • Professor Mohamed Tawfiq Rifa’t between1934 and 1944
  • Professor Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid (1945 -1963)
  • Prof. Dr. Taha Hussein (1963 - 1973)
  • Prof. Dr. Ibrahim Madkour (1974 - 1995)
  • Prof. Dr. Shawki Guest (1996 -2005)
  • Prof. Mahmoud Hafez (2005 -2012)
  • Followed by Prof. Dr. Hassan El-Shafei (2012 - till present day)

The ordinance issued by  King Fuad I in 1932 says that the Academy consists of 20 members from professors and experts in the Arabic language , 10 members should hold the Egyptian nationality, and the other 10 members are famous and highly qualifies experts from Arab countries or  foreign Orientalists , which means that the Academy is a global configuration , without restrictions to a certain nationality or particular religion , and that the experts were selected based on their credentials and expertise.

The Academy seeks to:

  • Produce dictionaries.
  • Examine Arabic language related issues.
  • Devise terms.
  • Resurrect Arab heritage.
  • Conduct cultural activities.

Union of the Arab Language Academies

This Cairo-based union was established in 1971, a committee of Arabic language academies in Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad was formed to develop the articles of association.

The Committee met with Dr. Taha Hussein in April of 1971, internal rules and procedures were put in place and Dr. Taha Hussein was elected as a President of the union, Dr. Abraham Madkour Secretary-General.

Dr. Ahmed Abdul Sattar Aljawari Baghdad’s Academy representative and Dr. Adnan Al-Khatib Damascus Academy representative, were both elected for the position of Assistant Secretary General.

The Union is run by a board which consists of two members from each academy appointed by their academy for a period of four years. A chairman, a general secretary and two asst. general secretaries are elected from those members for a renewable 4-year term. The regular meeting of the Union's Board shall be held at least once every year.

The Council can hold extra sessions if necessary, the majority rules and in case of a tie, the president’s vote outbalance its side.

The current Union President is Dr. Hassan El-Shafei, who holds as well the position of chairman of the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo.

 The current Secretary- General, Dr. Kamal Bishr also holds the position of the Secretary- General of the Arabic Language Academy Cairo.

Assistant Secretaries-Generals, Dr. Marwan MahasnI head of the Arabic Language Academy in Damascus, and Dr. Abdul Karim Khalifa, President of the Academy in Jordan.

There has been more Arabic language academies formed in Jordan, Palestine, Sudan, Libya and Algeria, Tunis and Morocco; all of them have joined the Union of the Arab Language Academies in Cairo.

The Union held fifteen science related sessions, so far sessions have been as follows:

  1. The first session in Damascus 1972, was held to research complex legal terms, the results of this study was printed and published by the Academy in Cairo.
  2. The second session was held in Baghdad 1973 to study the terms related to the oil industry, the results of this study was printed by the Union of Councils.
  3. The third session was held in Algeria 1973 to simplify teaching the Arabic language, the recommendations were that governments, institutions and companies should be prohibited from using the Arabic slang, the results and recommendations of this session were published by the union in 1977.
  4. The fourth session in 1978 was held in Oman about the modernism in teaching Arabic language, the recommendations were to expand the process of translating scientific books and resources into Arabic Language.
  5. The fifth session was held in Rabat 1985, were a lot of researches and papers were presented about localizing academic books.
  6. The Sixth session was held in 1987 and hosted by the Jordanian Academy about unifying the scientific symbols, the session’s accomplishment was an Arabic book for the  scientific symbols in Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics , the was published by the Union in Cairo.
  7. The seventh session in May of 1992 was held at the House of Wisdom in Tunisia for the unification of medical terms, the union printed the research results, session decisions and recommendations in Cairo.
  8. The eighth session in January 1994 was held in Damascus about the “Oil Industry dictionary” and it was finalized and recommended for publishing in Arabic, English and French.
  9. The Ninth session was held in October 1994 in the House of Wisdom in Tunisia again, the subject was “The Geological Dictionary” and recommended for publishing in Arabic, English and French.
  10. The tenth session was held in 1997 and hosted by the Academy in Damascus, the discussion this time was about the Biological dictionary for Agriculture and Biology, and the union printed the research results, session decisions and recommendations in Cairo in 1998.
  11. The Eleventh session was hosted again by the Academy in Damascus in 1999, the sessions main focus was to endorse a unified methodology for scientific terms in Arabic, how to make these terms united popular across all Arabic countries.
  12. The Twelfth session was held by the Academy in Jordan 2002 with a sole purpose to address the Arabic language in the era of high technology and globalization.
  13. The thirteenth session was held in Cairo 2004, to put together a detailed plan for the historical dictionary, how to execute the project and finance it. The Union decided to form an organization to work on the project of creating a Historical dictionary for the Arabic language.
  14. The forteenth session was held by the Algerian Academy in 2004, todiscuss: Arabic Grammar and modern linguistic theories.
  15. The fifteenth session was held in Sharjah, UAE in 2006, with the purpose of discussing different methods to activate the Historical Dictionary.

On 2 March  2008the Egyptian Government agreed to allocate a piece of land with an area measuring 6000 meters sq. Plot no.42/1 in central Sixth of October City was to be the location of the permanent headquarters to the Union of Arab Language Academics. During a visit by members of the Union’s Board of Directors to the Emirate of Sharjah, ruler of Sharjah His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi made his announcement to cover the expenses of building the Union’s headquarters. The construction of the headquarters has not been completed to this day.

The Union has now 25 active committees:

  • Large Dictionary Committee.
  • Language Rules Committee.
  • Pronunciation and Phrasing Committee.
  • Dialects and Linguistic Researches Committee.
  • Literature Committee.
  • Arab Heritage Revival Committee.
  • Medium Dictionary Committee.
  •  Psychology and Pedagogy Committee.
  • Philosophy and Social Science Committee.
  • History Committee.
  • Geography Committee.
  • Law Committee.
  • Medical Terms Committee.
  • Chemistry and Pharmacology Committee.
  • Biology and Agriculture Committee.
  • Economics Committee.
  • Geology Committee.
  • Petroleum Committee.
  •  Hydrology Committee.
  • Physics Committee.
  • Engineering Committee.
  • Mathematics Committee.
  • Electronic Processing Committee.
  • Civilization Phrases and Art Terms Committee.
  • Sharia Committee.

As a result of the different types of schools in the country (international schools, specialized language teaching schools and private schools that dedicate most attention to teaching foreign languages), the quality of Arabic curricula deteriorated and Arabic linguistic rules almost disappeared given the use of huge number of foreign words in all aspects of life. Despite that situation, the state failed to enact Arabic protection laws in order, for example, to make Arabic the official language of correspondence, advertising and other and also failed to improve Arabic curricula in the compulsory education stage.

In addition to the official negligence of Arabic, independent cultural institutions in Egypt, despite that many raise slogans such as "Our cultural services are for the underprivileged who do not know foreign languages", also neglect Arabic and many of them have websites that announce their activities in English, such as "SEMAT" and "Makan".

Chapter published: 01-04-2016