Egypt is one of the oldest countries in the world. This populous Arab nation is located in North Africa bordering the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, and, thus, is a gateway to the Middle East. It is famous for its ancient cultural heritage. Contemporary Egyptian culture draws from traditional and more recent developments. Various ancient cultural values, traditions, customs, and beliefs continue to shape modern-day Egyptian culture, though the influence from other countries is evident.
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Egypt is a culturally homogeneous society that is dominated by people of Egyptian ethnicity. Most people practice the Arabic culture, particularly, Sunni traditions (Scroope, 2017). A defining feature of the cultural identity of natives is their language; they use Egyptian Arabic. However, contemporary Egyptians speak several variants of this dialect. Recent political revolutions have raised issues of the cultural affinity of people to Egypt versus the Arabic world. Thus, being Egyptian means having an ethnic identity distinct from Arabs.
Religion is central to Egyptians’ lives. Although Egypt identifies itself as a secular nation, a vast majority of people are religious. Most Egyptians profess Sunni Islam (90%), while 9% of the population comprises Coptic Orthodox Christians, with the remainder practicing minority religions (Pizzo, 2015). The atheist group is also growing in Egypt. Discrimination against people of minority faiths is prevalent with occasional feuds between Sunni Muslims and Christians (Pizzo, 2015). However, fundamental religious values are similar across religions.
Belief systems reflect Islamic principles that guide everyday life. Egyptians express their faith through dress, diet, and frequent congregational supplication. They regularly refer to the supernatural will in speech with declarations like “inshallah” to refer to the divine authority God has over the future (Scroope, 2017). Friday visits to mosques for prayer is the norm for Sunni Muslims. Minority Christians also have distinct doctrines. They use the Coptic calendar, hold their church sermons in the ancient Egyptian language, believe in Christ as a deity, and have a cross tattooed on the wrist.
Traditional religious and cultural values are cherished in Egyptian society. Compassion towards other people and piousness are highly valued virtues. Egyptian Muslims do not consume pork, as pigs are considered unclean. Egypt is a collectivist society and the needs of the family outweigh those of a person. The idea of honor (sharaf) and individual dignity (karama) are central values tied to the patriarchal responsibility and reputation of men (Baker et al., 2016). The society holds prayer in high regard. Therefore, it is forbidden to engage an individual praying in a conversation or walk in front of him or her (Baker et al., 2016). Wearing the hijab for women is a way of preserving family honor.
Some customs are unique to Egyptian culture. This society is mostly patriarchal and conservative with men having the ultimate authority over women who are expected to play traditional roles of raising children and doing household chores (Abdelmonem, 2016). However, cosmopolitan elites, following the recent spate of sociopolitical revolutions, challenge the usefulness of these customs. Communal living with the extended family is common and endogamous arranged marriages are practiced. In Egyptian culture, people typically marry from within a specific religious group or social class.
Since Egypt is a largely conservative society, some behaviors are expected from people. Basic etiquette entails not displaying one’s heel or shoe sole to others, dressing modestly, extending greetings during social encounters, and respecting seniors (Baker et al., 2016). Shoes must not be worn in mosques, as doing so will desecrate holy places. Communal eating is common in Egypt. During such events, one is not expected to use the left hand, which is meant for routine personal hygiene.
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Egypt is a geographically diverse country with many unique spaces and landmarks. A large proportion of people (90%) live in the Nile River basin, a fertile crescent surrounded by arid lands (Scroope, 2017). The river divides Egypt in the middle to form two geographical spaces: the valley that is situated in the southern part of the Nile River and the delta in the north. The arid region comprises the Western Deserts that cover about 70% of landmass in Egypt. To the east between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea is another desert that features a rugged landscape.
Manmade features are key attractions and landmarks in Egypt. The Great Pyramid of Giza that was built as a tomb for Pharaoh Khufu is a historical marvel due to its great size (139m high) and architectural design (Scroope, 2017). Another major manmade feature is the Sphinx located in Cairo. Egypt is also home to the Luxor Temple and Abu Simbel, which are notable ancient religious sites. The Aswan Dam is another manmade feature constructed on River Nile to supply water for irrigation and to major Egyptian cities.
Egypt is a land of diverse climate and weather. The country is largely arid with hot dry days and cooler nights in most regions. The daily temperature is highest during the summer and ranges between 26.70C and 32.20C (Scroope, 2017). Winter days are much cooler (13-210C). Precipitation is low since most parts of Egypt are arid lands. However, rainfall is experienced in northern Mediterranean regions with occasional snowfalls on Mount Sinai in the winter. A dry, hot wind (Khamaseen) blows in the spring, causing sand storms.
The production sector is the backbone of the Egyptian economy. It includes segments like cement, hydrocarbons, fertilizers, food, and beverages. Egyptians display unique behaviors when producing goods or in the workplace. The country is a collectivist society, thus, the commitment to the family or group is strong. In the workplace set-up, employer-employee relations are seen through the moral lens, and the decisions to recruit or promote a person involve in-group considerations (Hofstede Insights, 2020). Compromise and negotiation are a part of Egyptian business culture.
Behaviors related to distribution reflect the power distance in Egyptian society. People accept the hierarchal social system where some individuals are more powerful than others. Thus, centralization is common, which has created socioeconomic inequalities (Hofstede Insights, 2020). Relationships are formed based on the social class or religion, and wealth and opportunities are distributed in a similar way. People tend to share within the group as opposed to being charitable to all.
The consumption behavior of Egyptians reflects their normative culture. These people have a low tendency to save for the future, as they prioritize their traditions and the current situation. Communal eating and care for the wellbeing of others are habits among Egyptians. The needs of each member of the in-group take precedence over individual desires. Personal indulgence and gratification are considered wrong. Individuals work for the good of the whole group.
Egypt’s contemporary culture is a blend of ancient values and modern-day influences. Religion is central to Egyptian life and all social and economic aspects of this largely conservative society have been shaped by Islamic and Coptic Christian fundamental beliefs. Egypt boasts of unique manmade features that reflect its rich cultural heritage. The economic acts of producing, distributing, and consuming are rooted in Egyptian culture.
Abdelmonem, M. G. (2016). The modern ordinary: Changing culture of urban living in
Egypt’s traditional quarters at the turn of the twentieth century. Middle Eastern Studies, 52(5), 825-844. Web.
Baker, R. W., El-Hamamsy, L. S., Holt, P. M., Hopwood, D., Jones, M., & Smith, M. (2016).
Egypt. Britannica. Web.
Hofstede Insights. (2020). Egypt. Web.
Pizzo, P. (2015). The ‘Coptic question’ in post-revolutionary Egypt: Citizenship, democracy, religion. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 38(14), 2598-2613. Web.
Scroope, C. (2017). Egyptian culture. Cultural Atlas. Web.