The plot to destroy Egyptian identity

Try a little experiment: stand in the middle of any Cairene street and loudly call for Mohamed, in a tone that indicates familiarity and slight irritation. Chances are, a large portion of the male population will look to respond to you.

Now a harder experiment: obtain the student roster of Cairo University and in a randomly chosen class, count the number of names made up of combinations of Ahmed and Mohamed: a large percentage again. Look at the rest: mostly made up of combinations of first names. Only a small majority will have names ending with a proper surname, identifying a family.

Logistically, that has always been an annoyance and a source of errors. Name collision is so high that some organizations, including the government, are asking for quadruple names in order to lessen the chances of collision.

How do names evolve in modern Egyptian society? Children append to their names that of their fathers and grandfathers. Some choose a great-grandfather's name. Siblings end up with different trailing names. Moreover, the social census bureau makes endless mistakes and arbitrary decisions while recording the names.

At the social level, and that's the point here, I think that the disuse of surnames and the ensuing naming chaos is leading to complete dissolution of the family concept. The inability to call a relative, even a sibling, with the same name as ourselves immediately diminishes the natural bond between us. And more importantly, by cutting us off our roots and our lineage, it wipes our personal and social histories, our collective experiences and our pride.

Is this a further indication of the decay of Egyptian society, or is it the result of a concerted effort to keep a whole people subjected to helplessness and abuse? The former is certain, but the latter is an important question.

If we agree that ultimately, not having surnames is detrimental to progress (both self and social) then we should think of how to restore them. This would unfortunately require a top-down decision because very few people are aware of this handicap. And there's no guarantee the government would be interested or ready to undertake an 80-million-fold modification of their documents. However, since we're dreaming, requiring 3 names whose last is a surname would be a very good step, forcing people to invent names, even if disconnected from the past, that future generations can start rallying behind.