Culture of Egypt
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On this page you will learn all about what life is like in Egypt based on their culture. Use the table of contents to the right to navigate to different parts of Egypt's culture.








Culture Names


Egyptian, Arab Egyptian, Arab Republic of Egypt (official)


Language


The official language of Egypt is Arabic, which is a branch of the Semitic languages. Egypt is an Arabic speaking nation mostly because of the Muslism conquest that occurred in the 7th Century. The unique thing about Arabic in Egypt is that it is spoken and written differently. There is a more formal version of Arabic used for writing that is not usually used in everyday conversation. This phenomenon is called diglossia. As with most countries, there are different dialects of Arabic used in different locations (think of how people in the southern United States sound different than those in the north). The dialect used in radios and television is the Cairo-spoken language. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)


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A chart of the Arabic alphabet



Beliefs and Traditions


One of the traditions, mostly associated with food and religion, is fasting. The act of fasting is seen as a spiritual exercise by Muslims as well as Christians. Muslims fast by not drinking or eating from sunrise to sundown, most often during the month of Ramadan. The dates shift slightly every year because they follow the Islamic lunar calendar, but it is usually around July/August and lasts for 29 or 30 days. There are other fasting days as well, such as on the day the prophet was born and the days of his "Night Journey," but they are followed only by very devout Muslims. During Christian fasting, meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and butter are avoided. They believe in fasting in order to cleanse their body and mind and reach greater purity. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.) Please read on to the following sections to find more specific beliefs and traditions associated with each topic.

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Ramadan Statue

Religion


Religion is a very important part of Egyptian culture. The main religion practiced in Egypt is Islam and 94% of the country practices this religion. The other 6% practices Christianity. Islam focuses on the concept of oneness with God and they believe the truth's of God come through the prophet, Muhammad. There are five pillars of the Islamic relgion: profession of faith, the Ramadan fast, the trip to Mecca, the five daily prayers, and the giving of alms. The beliefs and practices of the religion are all based off of those five pillars. They are focused on following God's will. They worship on a daily basis and often visit shrines for additional worship. These shrines are usually the burial places of people though to be in close connection with God, such as descendants of the prophet Muhammad. Because both Christians and Muslims practice religion daily and there is a lot of differences in the way people practice their religion, you cannot noticeably pick out who is Christian or who is Muslim. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)

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Muslims Praying




Housing


There are two main types of places where people live in Egypt, which are villages and cities. The rural parts of Egypt are made up of different villages. These villages usually have a main location where everyone lives and that is surrounded by agricultural fields and open land. The houses are usually made fired bricks and have a stable for farm animals. Each village has at least one mosque and a guest house. These are public locations, but are mainly for men. The mosque is a religious place of worship and the guest house is more of a large meeting place to be used by extended family. Another important feature of villages is the marketplace. This is where people come to trade and sell goods. Marketplaces are usually only located in bigger villages, so they are often a very social affair where people come to hear news from all over. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)

The other type of place where people in Egypt live are in cities. These are urban places, such as Cairo and Alexandria, that have different structures and functions than those of villages. The cities of Egypt have government buildings, housing, places to shop, schools, hospitals, and police services. The population densities in cities is very high, so Egypt's cities are typically crowded. Sometimes when the cities spread rapidly, like in Cairo, "squatter settlements" pop up along the outskirts of the city. These squatter cities are where the very poor live and usually have bad water and sewer systems and no schools or clinics. Most of the people who live in cities rent apartments; it is rare for someone to live in an individual house. Since the 1980's, things like telephones, air conditioning, and television have become more common in cities. About 74% of Egypt is connected to the potable water system (water that is safe enough to drink) and about 95% is connected to the electrical system. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)


Societal Expectations


There are many expectations people are supposed to follow in Egypt. One such expectation is in clothing. There is a dress code that is in place more for women then for men. Clothing must cover all of the body except the hands and the face. Because of this requirement, women wear head scarves that cover their hair and ears and is pinned under the chin. However, some head scarves are worn to cover the entire face except the eyes and some only cover the hair. While not every woman follows this rule, and it is hotly debated if it truly is a requirement or not, many do to please their families or because they follow the Islamic faith. For men the dress code is more along the lines of loose pants and loose shirts. The whole point of these clothing requirements is modesty so that the shape of the body is hidden. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)

Another expectation is that when a new person is joining a group, they must make the proper greeting. This can range from a hello, to a handshake, to a hug, but they must address everyone as they enter a social situation. When greeting or speaking with others, it is considered impolite to refer to them by just their name. Usually they call a person by a title, such as ' amfor a man, and then his name. In Egypt, it is also important to treat guests with hospitality. This involves offering at least tea or a beverage of some kind and sometimes they might even offer a cigarette. It is also common for people in rural areas to not visit those who they feel are of lower status then themselves. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)

For younger people in Egypt, it is important that they respect their elders. They are expected to address elders such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles with the special titles. It is also important that they do not argue with, raise their voice to, or challenge their elders. When elders are standing, younger people are expected to stand as well because it is seen as a sign of disrespect to remain seated. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)

There are also differences in expectations between men and women in Egyptian society. At home, men generally have all the power and make the decisions for the family. Almost all of the child-rearing and household work be done by the women in the family. However, women also contribute to the income by working outside of the home, especially in the cities. In rural areas women also take on some of the farming work such as caring for the animals and preparing crops to go to the market. Women do have equal legal rights as men, but they are not enforced equally by the law. For example, women who work in the informal sector do not need to be paid the same as men, so they are often paid less. Women do not have the same legal rights as men in terms of marriage, divorce, and child custody, and only men can pass on Egyptian nationality to their children. So, if your father is not of Egyptian decent, then you would not be considered of Egyptian nationality. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)


Education


Education is very valued in Egyptian culture. Children are required to go to school for at least 9 years, so they go to school from age 4 - 14. Primary education includes two years of kindergarten (optional), primary school for six years, and then preparatory school for three years. Parents in Egypt try to educate their children as much as possible and wealthier families even pay for high end private schools for their children. There a number of types of schools available, depending on the career track the student chooses. There are basic government schools, vocational schools, religious private schools, and technical schools. There are also extensive higher education schools in Egypt, but only about 30% of students in the typical age range attend. Unfortunately it is hard to make sure that education is fair and equal in all rural and urban areas and that is a problem Egypt is struggling with today. (Wikipedia, n.d).

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Egyptian Kids

Family Structure


Marriage is taken very seriously by the people of Egypt. Choosing a marriage partner is one of the most critical decisions a person can make and usually the man and woman are close in age and education level. Marriage is usually also a decision that is made in collaboration with families and sometimes matchmakers. The marriage ceremony is a big event and it affects everyone in both families involved. They usually have a very elaborate event and the more wealthy a family is, the more they spend on the wedding. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)

Traditionally, names are very important in Egyptian culture. They show your lineage, an important aspect of family identity. When a child is named, they are usually given three names: their name, their father's name, and their grandfather's name, in that order. They do not have last names in the same way that we do where everyone in the extended family shares the same last name. Religious first names are very common, especially for Muslim men and women. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)

Most families in Egypt are nuclear, meaning they consist of immediate family like mom, dad, and siblings. Some families are also extended and include grandparents. The eldest male in the family is the one who has the authority and makes decisions. Typically, when a woman gets married she moves into her husband's family household, but more and more the custom is becoming that a young married couple moves into their own house. Even if the young couple moves out on their own, they remain close with their families through frequent family gatherings. Having children is thought to be one of the greatest blessings and in Egypt they tend to have a preference for boys to carry on the family lineage. However, both boys and girls are treated with the same love and care. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)


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Egyptian Family




Healthcare


There is a large network of public hospitals in towns and cities across Egypt. Even basic healthcare is offered in just about every village. Generally, healthcare is free. However, sometimes because it is free to employees of certain companies, they must be treated at places owned by that company in order for it to be free. Those who can afford it often choose to be treated in private clinics and hospitals because the care given in public clinics and hospitals is not always the best. The modern health system in Egypt is often also combined with more traditional, homeopathic practices. This means that they do not use modern medicine or see regular doctors but instead see healers and get natural treatments. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)


Music


Music has been an important part of the Egyptian culture since ancient times. Music in Ancient Egypt was made with clarinets, harps, and flutes. They often included music and dance in their ceremonies and rituals. Over the years, the music of Egypt has kept the same rhythms, music scales, and instruments. Music is still an important part of religion today. In modern day Egypt, the youth have come to like Egyptian pop music, but Egyptian folk music is still popular as well and is often played at weddings and other traditional ceremonies. (Wikipedia, n.d.)

It is often said that Egypt was the center of the Middle East's music industry. They produce a lot of traditional Arab music, traditional folk music, and iconic pop music. Some of the famous Egyptian artists are Umm Kalthum, Mohammed Abd el-Wahaab, and Abd el-Halim Hafez. The pop music that is created there today is split into two categories. One is fast and bold, called shaabi and the other is al-jil. This second kind of music, al-jil, stands for "the generation" and it is a mix of traditional Arab pop and production-heavy techno. (Tsioulcas, n.d.)

Below is a sample of what Ancient Egyptian Music sounds like (video on the left) and modern Egyptian music (on the right)




Clothing


The clothing worn in Ancient Egypt was very different from the clothing worn today. In Ancient Egypt, the main fabric of clothing was linen. This is because it gets very hot in Egypt and linen is a very breathable material that lets air through it. It was made from plant fibers of a plant called flax and the Ancient Egyptians were skilled at weaving it into fabric. They made tunics called kalasiris and these were very basic garments worn by Egyptians. IT was also not uncommon for men to wear short skirts with belts and no shirts. The Ancient Egyptians wore clothing colored to symbolize different things. For example, yellow symbolized gold, green symbolized life and youth, and red symbolized violence. White was a sacred color and it symbolized purity. (Fashion Encyclopedia, n.d.)

The people of modern day Egypt wear the same kinds of clothes we do in the United States, except it is a little more baggy. They believe in hiding the body's form, so tight clothes are not as socially acceptable. The only major differences in dress occur when they are very religious. Those who are very religious, especially women, will keep their arms and legs covered and may even wear a head scarf, as explained in the societal expectations section above. (Harris, n.d.)



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Example of Egyptian Head Scarf




Food


The staple food in Egypt is the bread loaf. It is cooked in mud ovens by women who live in village or it can be bought at bakeries in the cities. The main national dish is fava beans cooked with salt, lemon, cumin, and oil. It is called foul and it is usually eaten for breakfast. Other common foods include tamiyya (falafel) and koshari. Falafel is made from crushed fava beans mixed with onions and leeks and fried in oil. Koshari is a mixture of rice, black lentils, and macaroni covered with tomato sauce and sprinkled with fried onions. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)


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A picture of the national dish: foul


In Egypt, the amount of meat and fish you eat depends on how wealthy you are. Wealthy families eat beef, lamb, poultry, or fish every day. Families with less money only eat meat and fish once a week or sometimes even once a month. Muslims do not eat pork, so pork products are rarely eaten in Egypt. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)

There are two different ways of eating at meal times in Egypt. With the traditional way, people sit on a carpet around a low, round wooden table. The food is placed in big dishes on the table and each person is given a spoon to eat from the same dish with. This is most often seen in the villages and the main meal is after dark. The other way of eating in Egypt is what we would consider the "normal." They sit on chairs around a table and each person has their own plate, spoon, knife, and fork. This is seen most often in the cities and the main meal there is in the late afternoon when people return home from work. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)

There are also certain food customs for ceremonial occasions in Egypt. For example, during the 'Id al-Fitr celebration after Ramadan, special cookies, called kahk, are baked and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The day that marks the prophet Muhammad's birthday is celebrated by making and eating halawet almulid,which are different kinds of sweets made with nuts. During this celebration children are also given dolls and horses made out of sugar and decorated in colored paper. On Sham al-Nassim (Easter Monday), the traditional breakfast is salted fish, spring onion, lettuce, and colored eggs which are usually eaten outside in gardens. So, as you can see, eating can be an important social activity in Egyptian culture. (Hopkins & Reem, n.d.)





References


Images:

http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/alonandjenny/3/1225454400/egyptian-family-on-vacation.jpg/tpod.html

http://hijabulous.blogspot.com/2008/09/artizara.html

http://muslimtoysanddolls.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1627

http://www.canadianarabcommunity.com/arabiclanguage.php


Education in Egypt . (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved December 7, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Egypt

Egyptian clothing . (n.d.). Fashion encyclopedia. Retrieved December 7, 2011, from http://www.fashionencyclopedia.com/fashion_costume_culture/The-Ancient-World-Egypt/Egyptian-Clothing.html

Harris, C. C. (n.d.). Egypt: Children in modern Egypt. Tour Egypt. Retrieved December 7, 2011, from http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/children.htm

Hopkins, N. S., & Saad, R. (n.d.). Culture of Egypt. Countries and their cultures. Retrieved December 7, 2011, from http://www.everyculture.com/Cr-Ga/Egypt.html#b

Music of Egypt. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved December 7, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_Egypt

Tsioulcas, A. (n.d.). Egypt: National Geographic world music. National Geographic world music. Retrieved December 7, 2011, from http://worldmusic.nationalgeographic.com/view/page.basic/country/content.country/egypt_39/en_US






Page Created by Samantha Zamudio ©smzamud@ilstu,eduCreated: 11/28/11Last Modified: 12/9/11