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Customs and Religion
is a Middle Eastern country and has Middle Eastern customs. Whether
Muslim or Copt, the Egyptians are deeply religious and religious
principles govern their daily lives.
Combined with religious belief is commitment to
the extended family, each family member is responsible for the integrity
of the family and for the behavior of other members, creating an
environment that would be envied by many people in the West.
Certainly, the result is that the city of Cairo
is safer than any western metropolis. Yet when westerners visit
Egypt they are often apprehensive. Their views of Egyptians and
Arabs, fomented by unkind and untrue media stories, often bear no
relation to reality.
Travelers are often surprised by their friendly, hospitable reception
and take home with them good feelings about Egypt and its population.
Egyptians have been raised in a social environment
steeped in Islam, a background that can color their decision-making
in a way difficult for foreigners to understand. Yet it is precisely
this training that makes Egyptians some of the most charming and
helpful of hosts. By understanding the culture and with consideration
for your hosts, you can be a welcome guest in Egypt.
Muslims do not drink alcohol though most do not object to others
imbibing in reasonable amounts. If in doubt, ask. In addition to
the prohibition on alcohol, the faithful do not use drugs or eat
pork, which is considered unclean. Explicit sexual material--magazines,
photos, tapes, or records--is illegal and subject to confiscation.
Keep in mind that proselytizing is illegal in Egypt.
Foreigners actively working to convert Egyptians have been asked
to leave. Remember, almost all the Egyptians are either conservative
devoted Moslems or Coptics.
In Egypt there are hardly any restrictions on foreign women. Ticket
lines, for example, are occasionally segregated. Women should line
up with other women (especially since the lines are usually shorter).
On buses, the driver may want you to be seated in the front with
other women. On the metro lines, the first car is usually reserved
For men, speaking to an unknown Egyptian woman is a breach of etiquette.
Take care in any liaisons you form because some families still follow
general, Egyptians are most accommodating and they will go out of
their way to help you and respond to any questions you have. Most
Egyptians require little personal space and will stand within inches
of you to talk. You will find that whenever you start talking with
an Egyptian, you will inevitably draw a crowd, and often the Egyptians
will start discussing among themselves over the correct answer to
Egyptians, if offered anything, will refuse the first invitation
which is customary. Therefore (unless you're dealing with Egyptians
used to Western frankness) you should do the same. If the offer
is from the heart and not just politeness, it will be repeated.
If you're invited into a home, especially in small villages, and
have to refuse, the householder will often press for a promise from
you to visit in the future, usually for a meal.
If you make such a promise, keep it, for having
foreign guests is often considered a social coup. If you fail to
arrive, your would-be host will be humiliated. To repay invitations,
you may host a dinner in a restaurant, a common practice.
Please do not offer tips to professionals, businessmen, or others
who would consider themselves your equals. You may seriously offend
them by your act.
the famous Egyptian feminist Hoda Shaarawi deliberately removed
hers in 1922, the veil was worn in public by all respectable middle-class
and upper-class women, Muslim, Jew, or Christian.
By 1935, however, veils were a comparative rarity
in Egypt, though they continued to be worn as an item of fashion
in neighboring countries like Syria and Jordan for 30 more years
and have remained obligatory in the Arabian Peninsula to this day.
Nowadays in Egypt, some women still wear the veil
demonstrating either modesty or Muslim piety.
One reason this is favored by many young professional women, is
that it tends to discourage male advances, physical or verbal.
From the 1930s onwards, Egyptian women began to
enter into business and the professions. Thus by 1965, thanks in
part to social changes affected in the course of the July Revolution,
Egypt could boast a far higher proportion of women working as doctors,
dentists, lawyers, professors, diplomats, or high officials than
might have been found in the US or in any European country outside
Women Traveling Alone
In Egypt, a woman traveling alone is generally safe, but she will
be noticed, less in large cities than in the country. However, if
problems do occur, seek help from the police or any shop nearby.
Although you probably will never be accosted, take
simple precautions as you would anywhere: don't walk in deserted
areas alone. Although most invitations are innocent, don't accept
them from strangers.
4. Visitor Responsibilities
Major tourism mosques are open to the public unless services are
in progress (the main service is on Friday at noon). Other mosques
are not. Keep in mind that a mosque differs from a western church
in that Christian churches are considered houses of God, while mosques
are more a gathering place for the faithful of Islam. Unless otherwise
posted, tickets to some that have been restored are sold by the
caretaker for about LE3-6.
All visitors to mosques, mausoleums, and madrasas
must remove their shoes. Most Muslims walk around in their stockings
but those mosques that are major tourist attractions have canvas
overshoes available; a tip of 50PT to LE1 is in order for the people
who put them on for you. Women must cover bare arms and should also
have a hat.
Crime and Drugs
Crime in Egypt is nearly nonexistent, and violence is usually limited
to family feuds. However, in tourism areas some pickpockets and
petty thieves may exists, so be careful and remember that the ever
helpful tourism police are usually nearby. Women must be cautious,
especially in out-lying areas. Stay completely away from drugs and
leave yours at home.
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