Whose Queen? Netflix and Egypt Spar Over an African Cleopatra.

In Cleopatra’s time, Alexandria, the capital of her kingdom, was a cosmopolitan port city bustling with Greeks, Jews, ethnic Egyptians and people from all over who, the Cambridge University historian David Abulafia said, largely saw themselves as part of the Hellenistic world. They identified by culture and religion, he said, not by skin color.

“Race is a modern construct of identity politics that’s been imposed on our past,” said Monica Hanna, an Egyptian Egyptologist. “This use and abuse of the past for modern agendas will just hurt everyone, because it’ll give a distorted image of the past.”

Though Egyptian critics of the show have denied any racist motives, some Egyptian commentators say their society’s internalized racism and inferiority complexes turned up the volume of the Cleopatra outcry.

Unable to take pride in modern-day Egypt’s political repression and cratering economy, some Egyptians “link their identities to ancient glories” or attempt to signal their superiority to the rest of Africa by emphasizing their European roots, said the Egyptian writer AbdelRahman ElGendy.

Seizing the chance to whip up Egyptian pride, government-owned media dedicated airtime on three different evening talk shows recently to slamming “African Queens.”

The same day, a government-owned media conglomerate announced that it would produce its own Cleopatra documentary. Its film, it pointedly noted, would be based on the “utmost levels” of research and accuracy.

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