It is easy to forget that Egypt is situated in North Africa – and not in the Middle East – as the architecture, food, music and people suggest a physical split from the rest of the continent. The country’s official name, the Arab Republic of Egypt, firmly sets it in the Arabian world as does the language (Egyptian Arabic) and the religion (predominantly Muslim).
The population of about 80,000 people lives mainly in the three areas: the cities of Cairo and Alexandria and other major centers along the Nile. Most of Egypt is covered by dessert – including the Sahara and the Libyan desserts – and so there is very little land that can accommodate the needs of the people. The Nile has always been an important location for agriculture because the river’s annual flood leaves a silt deposit that provides the best growing medium for crops.
Agriculture, petroleum exports and tourism are the country’s most important economic engines in this, the most developed county in Africa. Ancient temples and pyramids still bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to see for themselves one of the vestiges of one of the oldest civilization in the world. The pyramids at Giza, the Sphinx, the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, King Tut’s tomb and Nefertiti’s riches all attract visitors as does the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Many travelers are avoiding Egypt (and play into the terrorists’ hands) because of a number of bombings at tourist sites in the last several years.
Dressing in the Arab World
There exists various degrees of cover up for women, from completely to somewhat. Complete cover up includes veils with just slits for the eyes and, in some extreme cases, gloves covering the hands and lower arms. Others wear just veils covering their heads and shoulders, while some women wear no veils but dress discreetly. Short sleeves are okay but not sleeveless clothing while shorts are a no-no for men as well as women. It has been amazing watching the women who are completely covered up in black, no less, in 30 to 40 degrees Celsius heat.
Teens and young women are very creative in finding ways to wear the latest fashion without offending local sensibilities. Shops are full of sleeveless and spaghetti strapped tops and dress – but who can wear these? The trick is to wear a long-sleeve T-shirt or top under everything. That way, normally revealing clothing reveals nothing. The tops worn under everything are usually tight and synthetic and appear to be pretty hot. Short dresses and skirts are worn over jeans, like a tunic, and therefore the legs are still covered…again, they look very hot.
Travelers are advised to respect the local culture and to dress appropriately which means: no shorts except at resorts, no mini-skirts, no halter tops or any revealing dress which shows off belly, cleavage, back, shoulders, legs, etc. Appropriate dress means legs covered with mid-calf dress, skirt or pants and covered chest and shoulders. Women should keep a shawl or large scarf on hand to wear when entering religious sites (where they are allowed) or when feeling uncomfortable by the glares or leers of men.
Where We’ve Been
Many Muslim men sport a callus on their foreheads which could easily be mistaken for ash as seen on Christians’ on Ash Wednesday. A friend explained to us that the callus is a result of repeated prostration on prayer rugs with the forehead rubbing on the rough fibers of the rugs. These are worn as a badge of honor by devout Muslims showing how they pray every day, five times a day.
Hello: Ahlan wa sahlan
Thank you: Shukran
No thank you: La shukran
Peace be with you (frequent greeting): Salam alekum
And upon you be peace (usual reply to Salam alekum): Wa alekum es salam
God willing: Insha’allah
(You’ll hear insha’allah all the time – sometimes frustratingly frequently suggesting that it is in the hands of God – so turn around and use it when people want to sell you something, beg money from you, or ask you anything for which they won’t take a ‘no’.)
Learn more Egyptian Arabic at: EgyptVoyager.com
Egyptian Tourist Authority
Other sites of interest
On-Line Travel Guides
The Weather Channel: Cairo, Egypt
7 Ahmed Ragheb Street
Garden City, Cairo
Tel: +20 (2) 2791 6000 (service 24-hours/365 days per year)
Fax: +20 2 2791 6132
26 Kamel El Shenaway Street
Garden City, Cairo
Tel: +20 (2) 791-8700