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Country Info > Egypt >Visa Info > Egypt Govt > History & People > Egypt Destinations > Nile Cruises > Egypt Customs

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People of Egypt

Demography is a term that means the study and description of people. Who are the true Egyptians? What different races live in Egypt today? Where do they live and how do their cultures vary? These are all questions that demographers seek to answer. On the surface, all of this might seem rather simple, after all, Egyptians live in Egypt.

It is important that we start by trying to define our terms. What is race? Race is a term used to define different human groups that share common linguistic, cultural and genetic traits.. Please do not define race by physical appearance alone. What race is a person of African-American descent who is an albino? Race is so much more complex than what someone looks like. Often times races live in specific regions of the world. But where someone lives does not determine race either. Numerous races live in Africa. So the term African is not a very specific term to describe race.

Language is also an important component of race, but it can not be taken as the only determining factor. People of all races speak English, for example. So language in this case does not relate directly to race. The same can be said of culture. While each race has certain cultural traits that are unique, many of these are also shared by other people. It seems as if physical appearance, geography, language, and culture are all factors which taken together help define race, a term used and misunderstood frequently.

The ancient Egyptians believed that they as people defined ideal human existence. When a group of people think that their race is better than others this becomes the basis of racism. People who have this view in extreme are called ethnocentric. This means that they see their race or nation as the only true people. The ancient Egyptians were highly ethnocentric. This idea had to do with the Egyptian view of their land and its rule by their gods. The ancient Egyptians felt very strongly that when people moved to the land of Egypt they became Egyptians regardless of where they came from or what they looked like.

This is not to say that the ancient Egyptians did not have in mind certain standards about the ideal physical appearance of Egyptian men and women. But in their mind, a common land bound the people together. The ancient Egyptian language, like the people who inhabited the land, had similarities to other African and Near Eastern languages. The Egyptians were people that bridged two worlds. Today, a number of peoples live in the land of Egypt. Let us introduce you to some of the larger people groups and sub-groups.

1. Copts
The Copts are the modern descendants of the ancient Egyptians. The word Copt comes from the later Greek and Arab pronunciation of the word "Egypt". The consonants of both words are nearly identical in sound: compare CPT and GPT. Copt is an unusual word. It describes a group of people or an ethnic group, the language they spoke (Coptic) and their religion. The Copts are the living descendants of the pharaohs. Many of these people converted to Christianity during the Roman period in Egypt. The number of Copts living in Egypt has steadily declined under Muslim rule in Egypt.

The Copts make up less than 10% of the total Egyptian population, but these numbers are debated. There are a number of villages in Upper Egypt that remain almost entirely Coptic. While many Copts are well educated professionals others suffer in horrible poverty. Many of the educated Copts have left Egypt and live in English-speaking countries around the world. There are growing populations in the United States, Canada and Australia. There are an estimated 15 million Copts in the world today.

2. Arabs
The history of Egypt is in part the story of her conquest and rule by foreign people. In 641 A.D. Egypt was conquered by invading forces from Arabia. The Arabian peninsula had recently been converted to Islam (the Moslem religion), a religion established by Mohammed around 610 A. D. The crusading armies quickly conquered the lands of the middle east and swept across north Africa and pushed into Spain as well.

Many who lived in these lands were forcibly converted to Islam and the Arab people settled in these areas. Arab is a name used to describe people from the Arabian peninsula who migrated as a result of the Arab conquests and the spread of Islam throughout the middle east and north Africa. Not all Arabs are Moslems. There are large numbers of Arab Christians in the middle east as well. The Arabic language is in the Semitic language family, making it very similar to other Semitic languages like Hebrew, Syriac and Ethiopic.

3. The Bedouin (Arab ethnic group)
The Bedouin are nomadic Arab people who migrate through the Egyptian deserts in search of grazing for their livestock and water for their families. Their are a number of Bedouin tribes that have occupied various regions of Egypt since ancient times. These tribes are divided into clans or extended family units. The Bedouins move from location to location in small, compact groups led by an elder male. They live in temporary straw and twig installations or tents made of animal skin panels that can be secured to keep the sand out or opened to let the cooling breezes through the tent.

The men dress for the harsh extremes of the desert, wearing layered flowing robes that protect them from the sun's intense rays and yet that allow the air to circulate through their garments keeping the body temperature cooler. Their heads and neck are covered to shield them from the sun and wind-blown sand and to reduce the loss of moisture. The women wear black dresses and embroidered headdresses or bright and festive colors. Often their faces are veiled with veils decorated with embroidered designs, shells and coins. The Bedouin are hearty and resourceful people who live in one of the most demanding regions of the world. They know and respect the desert. Bedouins do not die of starvation. They live to survive. Their lives are not wasteful or greedy and they are always open to hospitality. As they entertain strangers, they learn of recent news and the availability of pasturelands and water in other areas.

It is common for Bedouin men and boys to be gone for many days, tending their flocks, hunting or trading in a nearby village. The women are left behind to tend the tent and some of the livestock. It is also not unusual for the women to pick-up camp and move during their husbands' absence, because of some need. The husbands will spend a number of days tracking down their families. In the event of a divorce, the tent belongs to the woman and the livestock are taken by the man. The women produce beautiful embroidery that are sold in markets in the oases. A number of pressures are forcing these people to leave their ancient way of life. They settle on the outskirts of desert villages and are eventually absorbed into rural communities often as desert farmers.

4. The Fallahin (Mixed ethnic groups)
The Fallahin are the people who inhabit the rural villages that line the Nile. These people work their small plots of land harvesting three separate crops each year. They also often keep some low maintenance livestock like chickens and goats. The beast of burden is a water buffalo. The Fallahin work hard to feed themselves and the huge population of Egypt. Everyone in the family works together in the field. Women thresh the grain and carry huge loads of alfalfa or hay on their heads and the boys drive donkey carts filled with fresh fruit and vegetables to market.

Women and small children tend booths and sell their crops. The Fallahin live in mudbrick homes, sometimes covered with white plaster, bordered in light blue. The houses are simple, often with dirt floors and no electricity or plumbing. The house is designed to provide insulation from the cold winter nights and at the same time circulation to cool the simple homes during the blistering summer days. Moslem Fallahin who have made their journey to Mecca, may decorate the outside of their house with paintings illustrating the story of their pilgrimage. The local mosque and these so-called Hajj houses, named after the Arabic word for the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca, have pride-of-place in a Fallahin village.

The villages bustle with excitement on religious festivals or weddings, giving people an excuse to leave their back-breaking labor and to enjoy the company of family and friends. The streets of a Fallahin village are congested at these times with singing, dancing and festivities. Women typically wear a black cover over brightly colored house clothes. Their head is also covered with a black vale. On market day the women come to town in bright and festive colors to buy, to sell and to meet with friends.

The women also wear silver and gold jewelry, necklaces, and bracelets on their wrists and ankles. This is their dowry, or the price that their husband had to pay for the right to marry the woman. Women can be divorced quickly by Islamic law. The women keep their dowry close at hand for future security in case of a swift

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