Culture, Customs and Conduct

Egypt 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.
Devout 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.
Moral Codes
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 women.
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 ancient traditions.
In 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 a question.
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.
Before 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 of Scandinavia.
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.
Visiting Mosques
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.
The business and secular community in Egypt operates under the Western (Gregorian) calendar (BC/AD). But other calendars have official status in Egypt. The Islamic calendar (AH), used to fix religious observances, is based on a lunar cycle of 12 months of 9 or 30 days. The Muslim year is thus 11 days shorter than the year according to the Gregorian calendar and months move forward accordingly.
In the Gregorian calendar, for example, April is always in the spring, but in the Muslim calendar all months move through all seasons in a 33-year cycle.
The Coptic calendar (AM) is based on a solar cycle and consists of 12 months of 30 days and one month of 5 days. Every four years a sixth day is added to the shorter month. An adaptation of the Coptic calendar is used by many farmers for planting and harvesting crops. It is used by the authorities of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The following are months for the Muslim and Coptic calendars
Toot (begins Sept. 11 or 12)
Rabi` il-awal
Rabi` it-tani
Tuuba (mid-Jan)
Dhu’l Qaeda
Dhu’l Hejja
Nasi (5-6 days)
Public Holidays (See also Moulids!)
January 7th - Coptic Christmas:
February 22nd - Union Day
April 25th - Sinai Liberation Day
May 1st - Labor Day
June 18th - Evacuation Day
July 1st - Bank Holiday
July 23rd - Revolution Day
September 11th - Coptic New Year
October 6th - ArmedForces Day
October 23rd - National Liberation Day
October 24th - Suez Victory Day
December 23rd - Victory Day
Feasts, Fasts and other Observances
Specific Islamic Observations
Islamic New Year
8 May
28 Apr
18 Apr
6 Apr
26 Mar
15 Mar
Prophet's Birthday
17 Jul
7 Jul
26 Jun
15 Jun
4 Jun
25 May
Mulid el-Nabi, (Mawlid an Nabi) is celebrated in honor of the Prophet Mohamad. A traditional parade complete with drums and banners is held in the historic area of Cairo. In preparation for the holiday, temporary stalls are erected in all parts of the country selling a variety of decorated sugar candy.
Start of Ramadan
11 Jan31 Dec
20 Dec
9 Dec
27 Nov
17 Nov
6 Nov
Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic year and is more of a religious observation than a holiday. It is a month of fasting and renewal. Muslims, except for the young, the old, the sick, pregnant women, and travelers, abstain from food, drink, cigarettes, and sex throughout daylight hours. The fast begins at dawn and ends after sunset and is broken by a meal called iftar. After the iftar, the evening is filled with festivities and people gather in the main squares of towns throughout Egypt to listen to musicians and storytellers. Just before dawn another meal is eaten in preparation for the long day of fasting. During Ramadan business hours are shortened.
See Feature
Tour Egypt Monthly Article on Ramadan
Tour Egypt Monthly Aricle: Eid: Celebration for the Young and Old

Eid Al Fitr
9 Feb
30 Jan
19 Jan
8 Jan27 Dec
16 Dec
6 Dec
Eid el Fitr, celebrates the end of Ramadan. The Eid el Fitr is a happy celebration with new clothes, gifts, and plenty of good food. Festivities usually last three days
Waqf el Arafat
17 Apr
7 Apr
27 Mar
16 Mar
5 Mar
22 Feb
The eve of Adha.
Eid Al Adha
18 Apr
8 Apr
28 Mar
17 Mar
6 Mar
23 Feb
Eid Al Adha (Eid el Adha), commemorates Abraham’s sacrifice of a sheep in place of his son. It is traditional for wealthier families to slaughter a lamb and share the meat with the extended family, neighbors, and the poor.
See Feature Tour Egypt Monthly Article on Eid
Specific Coptic Observations
Good Friday
25 Apr
17 Apr
9 Apr
28 Apr
13 Apr
27 Apr
19 Apr
11 Apr
30 Apr
15 Apr
Coptic Easter ends the Coptic Lenten season. It is usually celebrated one week after Western Easter. Coptic businesses are closed.
Easter Monday
28 Apr
20 Apr
12 Apr
1 May
16 Apr
Sham al Nessim, “sniffing the breeze,” is a spring holiday celebrated the Monday after Coptic Easter. Believed to date to the Paranoiac times, it is celebrated by all Egyptians regardless of religious affiliation. The entire population goes to the countryside or to some urban green space for a day long outing, with picnic baskets filled with hard boiled eggs and pickled fish. Businesses are closed.
15 Jun
7 Jun
30 May
18 Jun
3 Jun
Official Cultural Events
*Cairo has been the entertainment capitol of the Arab World for more than a century. You can tell if you were there during New Year's Night. The entire city looks like one big party. Cars and people walking in the streets until the next day. Either poor or rich, everybody is cheerful and trying to have fun on the last night of the year. Thousands of Arabs, from North Africa and the Middle East, fly to Cairo for that special night.
Beginning the year is the International Book Fair sponsored by the General Egyptian Book Organization at the Madinat Nasr Exhibition Grounds in Cairo. It is a three-week affair with displays by foreign and local publishers. Also in January is the International Documentary and Short Film Festival sponsored by the Ministry of Culture.
February has two interesting observances. The first is a gift from the ancient Egyptians. In Abu Simbel the ascension of Ramsses II to the throne of ancient Egypt is celebrated on February 22. Ramsses ordered the temple built in such a way that on this day the sun penetrated into the inner sanctuary of the temple lighting his statue within. The second event is the International Fishing Tournament held at Hurghada on the Red Sea. Sponsored by several associations and the Ministry of Tourism, this event welcomes fishermen from around the world.
March heralds the spring and the Annual Flower Show at the Orman Gardens, Sharia Giza, in Giza. It is accompanied by the International Children’s Film Festival, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture.
The hot summer has little to offer in the way of festivals, but September and October are busy months. A new festival is the Alexandrias of the World Festival: the cities bearing that name (there are over 40 in the world) join in the four-day celebration held in Alexandria, Egypt. The second yearly celebration at Abu Simbel, this time commemorating the birth of Ramsses II, occurs in October. Every year in October the Alexandria Mediterranean Biennale offers a wonderful venue for artists. Toward the end of the month is the annual commemoration of the Battle of Al Alamein, with services conducted by both former Allied and former Axis countries. In Ismailia, the International Folk Festival is attended by participants from all over the world. And then there is the Pharaoh’s Rally, an 11-day, 2,900 mile (4,700 km) daredevil motor vehicle race through the deserts of Egypt.
November hosts the Egyptian Arabian Horse show, with fine Arabian horses on display, and the International Children’s Book Fair at the Madinat Nasr Exhibition Grounds, while December is high-lighted by the International Film Festival.

0 Responses