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The Egyptian is one of the most misunderstood societies in the world. The ancestors of this society belonged to several ethnic and racial groups that interacted in a, largely, peaceful manner. The present-day society is, however, relatively uniform with regard to religion and language. Most Egyptians are considered to be the descendants of a people who originated in the northeastern part of Africa. These ancestors are commonly known as the ancient Egyptians. In 641 AD, it is believed that about Egypt was invaded by about four thousand horsemen of Arab origin (Kitchen, 1983). The horsemen managed to conquer the civilization for Islam. Since then, the Arab migration into Egypt became significant, and this increased the rate of intermarriages between the indigenous population and the Arabs. Traits of several other invaders, including the Greeks, Ottomans, and Romans, are also evident in present-day Egyptian society. The Mamluks who ruled Egypt from the 13th to 16th centuries intermarried with the local population, a situation which introduced the Circassian and Turkic traits in the society. Much of the intermarriages were between the rulers and the members of those families whose men belonged to the elite ranks (Buckley, 1996).
There is another indigenous group that is referred to as the Nubians. The Nubians have, historically, lived in the territory between the southern Egypt and northern Sudan. A significant number of their villages where taken away so as to give way for the construction of Lake Nasser, a water mass that is behind the Aswan High Dam. Presently, the Nubians are concentrated in Cairo and Aswan. Nevertheless, the government has always declined to recognize them as an ethnic minority group. In the Egyptian society, there are individuals of the Greek, Italian, Jew, and Syrian origins. Nevertheless, there has been a significant emigration of these individuals since the 1956’s Suez Crisis. During that time, the rise of Egyptian nationalism resulted into a feeling that none of these individuals was a true Egyptian. Those who chose to remain in Egypt intermarried with the indigenous communities so as to conceal their identities and those of their children (Grimal, 1992).
Islam has been recognized as the official religion since the Arab conquest. Over 90 percent of the Egyptians belong to the Sunni sect of Islam. The biggest religious minority group is composed of the Coptic Christians. These Christians pay their allegiance to the Coptic Orthodox Church. Other communities include the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Greek, Armenian, as well as many other Protestant denominations (Grimal, 1992). Most of the members of these denominations happen to be foreigners. Although there was a time when official tension between Egypt and her neighbors existed, much of that has receded. Presently, Egypt considers almost all of her neighbors and, indeed, the countries in the region to be friendly. It is evident that this view has trickled down to the basic structures of the society in that, for most Egyptians, the issue of racism is insignificant. It is for this reason that the Copts, Jews and, indeed, tourists from all countries and races traverse Egypt freely. Today’s Egypt has not been plagued by the Islamic fundamentalism that has been challenging several other countries in the region (Buckley, 1996).
The Way of Life in Egypt
In the Egyptian society, two main socio-economic groups are evident. One of the groups is composed of wealthy and Western-educated elite, and this is mainly composed of individuals in the upper middle class. Secondly, there is a group where the majority of the Egyptians belong. These are the peasants as well as those who belong to the urban lower and middle classes. Some of these may be working. These groups exhibit a great variation in their diet, consumer habit, and clothing (Grimal, 1992).
Since the government began implementing the economic liberalization strategies, the middle-class has been expanding. The expansion has been due to the attraction of such professionals as importers, commercial agents, and financiers who happen to have established some connections with the foreign culture and foreign capital. These professionals have been among the most important consumers of items such as the luxury cars, American and European music and films, as well as the European designer clothing (Kitchen, 1983). The old and wealthy elite have also begun adopting such a lifestyle, and this makes Egypt so much unlike the ancient society that many outsiders think of. In this case, understanding the culture of the Egyptians would enable a Westerner to understand them in a manner that would facilitate the establishment of a mutual connection and relationship. This would be possible since, as it has been aforementioned, most Egyptians are friendly and accommodating (Buckley, 1996).