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About Egypt | Country Profile
About Egypt
Cities Attraction
Sight Seeing






Health Incense and Rosewater


Political structure Transport ROADS


RAILWAYS Islam v Christianity


M.transportation Women's Entertaining


Social patterns The Alexandria Metro


Car rental Arab social customs


Cruising the Nile The main rules are


Currency Mixed Entertaining


Population Standard of living


The People Forms of address


The Cairo Metro Arab hospitality
Official Name The Arab Republic of Egypt
Capital Cairo
Head of State President Mohamed Morsi
Legal system English Common Law, Islamic Law and Napoleonic Codes
Language Arabic (Official), French and English
Time Zone 2 hours ahead of GMT
Population 90 million
Currency Egyptian Pound (EP)
Real GDP Growth 1.9%
Gross Domestic Product $2,490
Consumer Price Inflation 8.4%
External Debt $34.6 Billion
Principle Growth Sectors Agriculture, Industry, Services, Energy, Natural Gas, Environment



Egypt or the Arab Republic of Egypt, which the country has been officially called since 1 September 1971, lies in the north-east corner of the African continent and joins Africa with Asia. Egypt has an area of 386,000 square miles (4 times that of the UK), and less than 4% is cultivated.

The major geographical regions are

a) the Nile Valley;
b) The Eastern Desert;
c) The Western Desert; and
d) the New Delta at south west of Egypt.

To the north, the country is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, to the east by Israel, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, to the south by Sudan and to the west by Libya. Egypt, which covers an area of approximately one million square km (386,200 square miles), 96% of which is desert, is intersected by the River Nile in a northsouth direction and consists of the valley and the delta of the Nile, the Western (Libyan) Desert, the Eastern (Arabian) Desert and the Sinai Peninsula, which is separated from the rest of the country by the Suez Canal.

The Nile delta and the Nile valley are traditionally called Lower and Upper Egypt, and the capital city Cairo lies on the dividing line. North of Cairo, the Nile divides into the Damietta branch and the Rosetta branch. Egypt lies in a subtropical region with a dry climate, warm summers and mild winters. The majority of the country (including Cairo) rarely gets rain, with the exception of the northern part of the Nile delta and along the Mediterranean coast, where average annual rainfall amounts to approximately 150 mm and is concentrated in the period from December to March.

There are fairly substantial variations between daytime and night-time temperatures. In the winter months (November-March), average daytime temperatures in Cairo are around 19C, whereas at night the temperature falls to about 8C. In the summer months (May-September) daytime temperatures average about 33C, but may exceed 40C in certain periods, and night time temperatures fall to about 20C. The Khamsin (ie the warm, dry sandstorms) occur chiefly in April and May. The best time to visit Egypt is between November and March.


The Arab Republic of Egypt is a Presidential Republic. The division of powers is based on the three branches of classical theory: executive, legislative and judicial. The executive power is held by the President of the Republic who is appointed by parliament and is elected by national unanimity for a period of six years. He may be re-elected for further terms of office.

The President is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister, members of the government and also the Governors responsible for the administration of the 26 regions into which the national territory is divided. He is also the supreme head of the armed forces, and has the power to appoint one or more Vice Presidents of the Republic, although this possibility has so far not been used by the current Head of State.

The legislative power is exercised by the People's Assembly, elected every five years and comprising all categories of representation. The Assembly consists of 448 members elected on the basis of secret ballot elections in which various lists of candidates, including more than 10 by presidential nomination, may participate. The political composition enabling entry to parliament should obtain a minimum of 8% of the votes.

The main parties present in the People's Assembly are currently the National Democratic Party (which is the party in power), the Social Labour Party, Liberal Party, New Wafd Party and Unitarian Progressive Party, which represent the opposition.

The main functions of the People's Assembly, in addition to its fundamental legislative role, may be summarised as follows:
appointment of the President of the Republic approval of the general policy lines for Egypt followed by the Head of State approval of the government plan submitted by the Prime Minister ratification of the decrees issued by the President of the Republic ratification of the international treaties arranged by the country.

The judicial power, independent of the other powers, is exercised by the Supreme Constitutional Court, the Council of State and the other ordinary courts. Administratively the country is divided into territories under a governor, towns and villages each having their respective self-governing body.

Local government exists for administrative purposes but is not powerful in Egypt. The 26 territories under a governor are as follows:
Benr Suef
Fayoum Gharbeya
Kahr El Sheikh
Marsa Matroûh
New Valley North Sinai
Port Said
Red Sea
South Suez

Political structure

The structure of the government at the national level consists of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. The 1971 constitution calls for the separation of these powers. The president is the head of state and is nominated by a two-thirds majority of the Majlis al-Shaab (People's Assembly) and subsequently elected by popular referendum. The president has executive powers and appoints all vice presidents, the prime minister and ministers, provincial governors of ministerial rank, armed forces commanders, security heads, and important religious figures. The president is the supreme commander of the armed forces. The executive also has the power of law through presidential decrees. The president holds office for a six-year term with the last elections held in 1993 electing Husni Mubarak for his third term.

The legislative body, the People's Assembly, is a 444-member body, 434 of which are directly elected by citizens and 10 of whom are appointed by the president. The president has the right to dissolve the Assembly, but only if the move is supported by popular referendum. With a vote of no confidence the Assembly can require a minister to resign. Should a vote of no confidence in the prime minister be passed against the wishes of the president, the decision may be put to a popular referendum. The authority of the legislature to reform legislation or change the structure of the government is circumscribed. The last legislative election was in November of 1995.
The judicial system is based upon a mix of Islamic law, Napoleonic codes, and English Common law. The Courts of Egypt are primarliy divided into two juridical court systems: Courts of General Jurisdiction and Administrative Courts. The Supreme Constitutional Court has been the highest judicial body since 1969. Recently, military courts have been established to try Islamist cases on a "fast track" basis.

Transport ROADS

The road network consists of almost 35,000 km of asphalted roads, almost half of which are dual carriageway. It is very much concentrated in the Nile valley and delta. There are links with the outlying regions of Sinai, the Mediterranean coast of the north-west and the oases of the Eastern desert. The 1992-1997 five-year plan provided for 250 km of roads to be built in the new towns in 1993, and the building of the Greater Cairo Ringroad. This plan is available for reference or loan to UK exporters from the Export Market Information Centre (EMIC). Please quote Code 62.


Egypt has the oldest railway system in North Africa made up of about 5,500 km of track, including 935 km of double track. The main line links Alexandria to Aswan via Cairo, El Minya (Menia) and Luxor. The network also serves the large economic centres of the delta (Tanta, Damanhfir, El Mahalla El-Koubra, El-Mansfira, Dumyat (Damietta)), as well as towns on the Suez Canal (Port Said, Ismâ'ilîya, Suez) and the Mediterranean coast to the west of Alexandria as far as Marsa-Matrûh, and to the border.

Over the years investment in the railways has lagged behind other sectors of the Egyptian economy leaving large areas of the network in urgent need of modernisation. Egyptian National Railway (ENR) on its own does not have the funds to carry out such a programme. They do nevertheless, have plans which provide for the rehabilitation of some 1,000 km of track, 608 km of which are of international standard gauge, and to import or overhaul some 600 locomotives along with replacement parts almost all of which are imported. There are also plans to extend the network from Alexandria to Tobruk as part of the longer-term project of fines linking the countries of the "Greater Arab Maghreb", from Cairo, across the Suez Canal, through Sinai to Gaza and from Qena to Abu Tatour.

Timetables are generally reliable, although the system itself is in need of some modernisation. First-class rail travel is either by wagon-lit, which has air-conditioning, hot and cold running water in each sleeper compartment and a full meal service; or by first-class seated accommodation. Second-class travel is divided into two sub-sections: with or without air-conditioning. Third-class travel is extremely basic, very cheap and can be uncomfortable.

The Cairo Metro

The Cairo Metro is being built by a consortium of French and Egyptian companies at a cost of around £E5 billion. Line 1 which runs 42 km from El-Marg in the northern suburbs to the industrial city of Helwan in the south was brought into service in September 1987. Work on Line 2 began in June 1993 and the first 8 km section from Shubra to Ramses Square is due to open in October 1996, while a 3 km extension to Tahrir Square should be completed by June 1997. This line will eventually extend to Cairo University and Giza railway station but a starting date for this section has yet to be decided. The system is currently used by about 1.1 million passengers daily. This should rise to about 2 million per day after the opening of Line 2. A third line has also been planned to run from Imbaba in the north-west of Cairo to Salah Salem in the east. Information on this should appear in the next governmental five year plan beginning in 1997-1998. Development plans can be gained from EMIC.

The Alexandria Metro

In 1994, the National Authority for Tunnels invited bids to pre-qualify for the first section of the Alexandria Metro. The system will consist of three sections: Line 1, 22 km from Abou Kir to Misr station using the existing Abu Kir railway line. Line 2, 21 km from Misr station to El Mex passing through the city centre with some section underground. Line 3, 12 km from El Mex to El Amerya, likely to be overground.


Egypt has international airports at Alexandria, Aswân, Cairo, Hurghada, Luxor and Sarm-el-Sheikh with other airports at Abu-Simbel, SaintCatherine, El-Arish, Marsa-Matrûh and Taba for internal air services. Egyptair, the national airline, is the largest airline in North Africa, carrying around three million passengers per year. It also operates a passenger subsidiary, Air Sinai for services to Sinai and Israel and Shorouk, which it set up as a joint venture with Kuwait Airlines in 1992 to specialist in cargo and charter services. There are also a number of smaller, privately owned airlines and air taxi services the most prominent of which, ZAS, went into liquidation in 1994.


Egypt has paid particular attention to port development, with the construction of the port of Dumyat (Damietta) from scratch, improvement of the ports of Alexandria and Port Said, and the construction of the ore terminal at Dekheila. The total capacity of these ports amounts to approximately 30.5 million tonnes. 65% of maritime traffic passes through the port of Alexandria (around 18 million tonnes), making it Egypt's leading port and the Mediterranean's second after Marseilles. Port Said and Suez come next in second and third places respectively. The network of navigable waterways covers 3,100 km, divided between the Nile and canals.


Bus services are to be found everywhere in Egypt. Deluxe buses, which run between most of the main towns and cities, are air-conditioned and fairly comfortable. The basic Intercity bus service is less luxurious and is often extremely crowded.
Tickets can be bought at a bus station window, or, sometimes, on the bus. Regular ticket inspections are the norm. On longer runs, seats can be booked in advance, but for short distances those who board first will get the best seats.
Visitors should be a little wary of 'video buses' which, despite their superior speed and cleanliness, show non-stop movies at high volume, and are not for those with delicate eardrums.


Service (pronounced ser-vees) taxis are usually Peugeot 504 vehicles which hold about six or seven people and which tend to congregate near bus and railway stations.
This is a relatively fast way to travel between cities, but the driver will not begin the journey until his vehicle is full, which can be inconvenient. The whole vehicle can be hired for an increased fare, however.

A larger version of the service taxi is the microbus, which is built to hold about 12 people and often holds twenty or more. Needless to say, it is not particularly comfortable and passengers are often charged extra for luggage. Microbus fares are roughly the same as service taxis, but there are fewer routes.

Regular taxis operate in most Egyptian cities. In Cairo these are black and white, and in Alexandria black and orange. Although most are fitted with a meter, many are non-functional and arguments between passenger and driver over the correct fare are quite common. As in all Middle Eastern countries, it is probably best to avoid this by negotiating the fare before beginning your trip.


Cairo and Alexandria have their own tram networks. In Alexandria, the trams are often fairly crowded, but the network is extensive and the system is reliable. In Cairo, the system is smaller, consisting of only three lines.

Car rental

Roads are hazardous and local driving skills leave a great deal to be desired -- roadside heaps of post-accident scrap metal constantly bear witness to this. Visitors are strongly advised against hiring a car themselves, although there are plenty of rental agencies in all major cities. Driving at night is particularly dangerous, as many drivers do not use headlights.

Mounted transportation

Camels and donkeys can be hired by the hour to enable the visitor to wander round many of Egypt's ancient sites. A guide will usually accompany you.

Cruising the Nile

This is a popular tourist activity, and so the quality and price of organised cruises can vary. At the top of the range, cruises can be booked through most of the major hotels; others can be obtained more cheaply through numerous Cairo travel agencies, and can cover full-day excursions through to a four-day sightseeing trip. The most common means of transport up and down the Nile is by the ancient sailing boats known as feluccas. A felucca ride can be arranged for a few hours and is a peaceful way of seeing the Nile traffic and scenery. Sunset is the recommended time to do this.


During the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the economy of Egypt was radically socialised. Beginning in 1961, foreign trade, banking, insurance, and most wholesale and industrial establishments were nationalised. Those sectors which remained in private hands were placed under heavy regulatory restraints.
Industry was expanded and production increased according to a five-year plan. Inadequate foreign investment, a sluggish bureaucracy and the disastrous 1967 Arab-Israeli War subverted subsequent development programmes until a process of economic reform was inaugurated by Abdel Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, in the aftermath of the October War of 1973.

By reversing many of Abdel Nasser's policies and opening Egypt to foreign investment, Sadat began a gradual revival of the Egyptian economy which was significantly enhanced by remittances from Egyptians working in the surrounding oil producing countries.
The very slow but sure relaxation of import, currency and trade restrictions stimulated Egypt's foreign exchange economy.

Tourism, which had fallen off drastically during Abdel Nasser's time due to Egypt's anti-western stance and poor tourist infrastructure, was restarted with the privatisation of many nationalised tourist facilities.
Sadat's dramatic peace initiative and treaty with Israel transformed the western view of the Arab leader and his country and further enhanced the country internationally, although the gesture was motivated by more practical considerations: Egypt couldn't afford another war with Israel.

Despite the many advances the country has witnessed under President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt continues to suffer from the vagaries of regional instability and its exploding population.

Government leaders openly admit that population growth is undermining all efforts toward developing the country's economy. This situation is further aggravated by consumerism.

Servicing a foreign debt over twice the size of the national budget is another negative factor. Under pressure from the IMF and World Bank, Egypt finally began to lift price controls, reduce subsidies and begin to relax restrictions on trade and investment.

Tourism represents one of the most lucrative sectors of Egypt's economy but is highly vulnerable to internal violence and regional politics. The government remains hopeful that the oil and gas discoveries in the western desert will produce significant revenues.


The currency is the Egyptian pound (£E) which is divided into 100 piasters (pt).

Seven denominations of notes are used and five coins, although £E 100 notes and 1 and 2 pt coins are rarely seen.

Notes: LE1, 5, 10, 20 and 100 as well as 25 and 50 pt
Coins: 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 pt
The exchange rate at January 2013: £1 sterling = LE 10.30, $1 US Dollar = LE .06,75

Business visitors should consult their banks for the current rate of exchange. The recent structural changes have also affected the exchange market in Egypt. The Egyptian pound is now convertible. The present system is that of a floating currency. A large number of bureaux de change have been set up and the black market has disappeared.

The Egyptian tax year runs from 1 July to 30 June. However, most companies have a financial year running from 1 January to 31 December. Any amount of foreign currency may be taken into Egypt. Even though the Egyptian authorities in principle abolished currency declarations for foreign visitors at the beginning of October 1991, visitors are recommended in their own interests to ask for large amounts of foreign currency to be declared for customs purposes when they arrive, as this will make customs formalities easier when they leave the country (if larger amounts of foreign currency are being taken out, travellers may be asked to explain where the currency comes from).

Travellers' cheques and currency should always be changed at the authorised banks (which usually have exchange bureaux in the major hotels) and currency dealers. International credit cards may be used in the major hotels and in a number of restaurants and shops. If it is necessary to change Egyptian currency back into foreign currency on departure from the country, travellers may be asked to produce invoices showing that the Egyptian currency was purchased through the banking system. Visitors are allowed to take into and out of the country a maximum of £EIOO per person.


Egypt, one of the main civilisations of the ancient world, has a history that goes back more than 5000 years. The various dynasties of Pharaohs were succeeded by foreign conquerors - Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine. European influence in the 19th century gave way to a constitutional monarch in 1922. Following the revolution of 1952, Egypt declared itself a republic in 1954.


The population is estimated at 90 million (Jan, 2013) and is increasing at 2.1% pa.

Thirty three per cent of the active population work in agriculture, 17% industry and services account for 50%. The mortality rate has fallen considerably over the years, with improved hygiene and sanitation, from 25% at the end of the 1940s to 10% at the beginning of the 1980s. Consequently, life expectancy has risen from 39 years recorded in 1952 to 60 years at present.

Currently, more than 50% of the population is under 20. More than 97% of the population is concentrated in less than 5% of the total territory, the remaining 95% comprising desert and inhospitable regions.
The concentration of the population into the narrow Nile valley and the delta means that in the habitable regions the density amounts to more than 800 inhabitants per square kilometre. In the city of Cairo, this figure is well in excess of 31,000 inhabitants per square kilometre, with some districts reaching a high of 105,000 per square kilometre.

Social patterns

There are certain forms of conduct of a less tangible nature which, experience shows, can often be decisive in ensuring that business relations with, and visits to, Egypt remain satisfactory. Personal friendship often plays as important a role in the conclusion of business transactions as do some sales parameters, eg price, quality, and the ability to familiarise oneself with local conditions is therefore extremely important.

Most Egyptians (irrespective of education and Social status) are spontaneously extrovert, friendly, obliging and as a rule, informal in their dealings with each other and with foreigners, subject to the existing structure of authority and class. Some knowledge of Egypt's history, culture and social structure - indeed, perhaps with a little knowledge of Arabic as well - will usually make a good impression; at the same time, it is necessary to show reticence regarding direct criticism of politics and social conditions, for example. It is necessary to be patient in business relations, as time and punctuality are rather vague concepts in Egypt. Meetings are usually arranged at very short notice, and often visitors will encounter a very relaxed attitude to agreed meeting times. Therefore, the time required for visits to customers may be quite considerable, not least because of frequent severe traffic congestion particularly in Cairo, and to a lesser extent in Alexandria.

Most Egyptians have three names: forename, the father's name and the family name as in, for example Mohamed Amin Mostafa. It is best to use the family name and call a businessman Mr (Dr) Mostafa, or, only when on very friendly terms with him, Mr (Dr) Mohamed. His wife would normally be called Mrs Mostafa. Ministers should be addressed as Your Excellency or Minister.

It is advisable to exercise a certain amount of caution vis-a-vis Egyptian negotiating partners in respect of that person's attitude to religious questions. Thus, at gatherings with Egyptian business people, visitors should avoid eating, drinking and smoking during the fasting month of Ramadan (when Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours), unless there is a direct invitation (request) to do so. In addition, it is necessary to be aware that during the fasting month Egyptians usually get only a limited number of hours sleep, as traditionally in this period a lively family gathering develops, with the consumption of several meals during the hours of night. Use of a visiting card with English on one side and Arabic on the reverse is recommended.

Women play an increasingly active role in commercial and social life and within the public sector, and it is government policy to aim at achieving equality between the sexes.

The People

Although modern day Egyptians are usually lumped together with "the Arabs" due to their language and Islamic traditions; this is not completely accurate. There is a truly Bedouin Arab grouping within Egypt, the majority still nomadic tribal peoples living in isolated oases and roaming through the country's vast desert regions. Many Bedouin Arabs are settled in the Sinai Peninsula and along the Red Sea coast, across from Arabia.

However, anthropologically, the majority of indigenous Egyptians trace their ancestry back to the Semetic tribe of Ham. Their physical appearance and cultural traditions are distinct from all other Middle Eastern peoples.

The third main racial grouping in Egypt is comprised of the Nubian peoples who lived for thousands of years in their own land along the Nile, called Nuba, which overlapped from Upper Egypt into northern Sudan. Most of Nuba was flooded in the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser with the construction of the Aswan high dam and the creation of the artificial Lake Nasser. The Nubians were resettled by the government but much of their ancient culture and stunning architectural tradition has been lost.

For millennia wave upon wave of conquerors has passed through Egypt, leaving traces in their descendants. Romans, Greeks and, more recently the Turks, Circassians (Mamluks) and even French and English have intermarried with the Egyptians, adding further to the cosmopolitan melting pot. For a half century the rural population has shifted to the main urban centres in search of employment.

Until today nearly half the population reside in overcrowded cities. To remedy this, the Egyptian government has inaugurated a series of incentives to try and lure many Egyptians away from Cairo and Alexandria. Part of this programme includes the construction of industrial cities located well outside the main centres and the programme seems to be meeting with a measure of success.

There are a number of other small distinct minorities including Berbers, most of whom live around Siwa oasis (pictured), and the 7 million Copts who share the same racial background as their indigenous Muslim countrymen but who were among those who remained wedded to their ancient Christian beliefs and traditions.

Standard of living

The local authorities are clearly aware that the current population growth rate constitutes a great obstacle to the possibilities of economic development, and any improvement in the quality of life for its citizens.

Although some measures have been taken to control the birth rate, by setting up organisations throughout Egypt to provide information on possible methods of contraception, the results so far obtained are only modest. The authorities' plans face traditional obstacles present in developing societies characterised by agricultural lifestyles and the dogma of Islam which is opposed to any kind of birth control. The number of Egyptians living abroad has risen from 1,400,000 in the 1976 census to 2,250,000 in the 1986 census. The main destinations for emigrants are the richer countries of the Middle East. With regard to the standard of living, it can be said that about 65% of the population should be considered to be poor and only have means of subsistence; 30% classified in the middle class category, and the remaining 5% can be defined as rich. The average per capita income, is currently placed at around US$660 per year according to World Bank estimates.

The poorer classes are represented by farmers, smallholders, workers, low-grade civil servants, small traders and labourers. The only improvement in lifestyle that this class has managed to obtain is the possibility of receiving a minimum level of education which since 1952 has been free.

The middle class, representing 30% of the total population, consists of government employees, traders, professionals, skilled workers and people who, as a result of the so-called "open door policy", have been able to find job opportunities in the offices of foreign companies. The members of this class generally have a good level of education and are able to speak at least one foreign language. There is an increasing number of the younger generation joining this bracket and in general their potential to increase their income has risen.

Arab social customs

The Arabs are a hospitable and courteous people, and the perils of doing the wrong thing in the Middle East are much exaggerated. The style is more important than the act itself. While they do not expect outsiders to copy their way of doing things, Arabs will respect those who measure up to their standards of dignity. Nothing is said if one forgets, but the atmosphere of a conversation can be spoiled by what local custom regards as bad manners.

The main rules are:

1. Don't Hurry
There is plenty of time for everything. Conversations begin slowly. Courtesies are important. Ask after your hosts health. Respond in kind when he speaks warmly and ask at length about his country's links to Britain and to our Royal Family. Normally do not start talking business until coffee or fruit drinks have been served.
Do not be embarrassed by silences: a pause for reflection is common and considered to be a sign of "gravitas".
2. Don't be Too Extrovert
Arabs expect to get to know people slowly and may resent visitors who force the pace or who are too effusive. Slow and dignified behaviour is preferred. Humour is not their public style, though they enjoy jokes in private. Private meetings and parties can be extremely informal and relaxed.
3. Do Not Cross Legs (Or Even Ankles)
When Seated in the Presence of a Ruler. Most important when cameras are about. This is the Arabian equivalent of picking one's nose: occasionally seen but a mark of extreme vulgarity.
4. Never Allow the Soles of Your Feet to Point at Anyone
This rule is not so well observed as it was, but a breach will upset the traditionalists. Can be interpreted as a deliberate sign of contempt. Nowadays the rule is normally only relevant at a sit down traditional feast. A certain degree of gymnastic ability is required of the Westerner.
5. Always use your Right Hand to Accept Food and Drink
Even at a traditional meal (seated on the floor) you will be provided with cutlery. But you should not use your left hand, e.g. when accepting coffee or other drinks, or eating from a communal dish. At a traditional meal, use a spoon in your right hand.

Arab hospitality

Arabs give importance to generous hospitality and at banquets ensure that vast amounts of food, far more than can be consumed by the guests, are available. In the past both the host and his sons would refrain from eating with their guests and served the guests. However, nowadays they join their guests at the table. In the past too it was considered polite to refrain from conversation during the meal to show due respect for the food. Now conversation is accepted but a guest should not feel embarrassed by silence, nor should he feel constrained to eat more than he wants. It is customary for a guest to leave a large amount of the food which has been heaped on his place untouched to be cleared away by the servants. 30/40 minutes is usually enough for a meal so there is little time for conversation.

It is normal for an Arab banquet to start with the guest and hosts sitting together in the Majlis (reception/sitting room) where they will be served with Arabic coffee and tea (sweet and without milk), and possibly incense and rosewater. It is customary to take less than three cups of coffee (in the right hand of course). Incense is wafted towards an imaginary beard and rosewater poured on the hands. This prepandial performance can last up to three hours. Afterwards the host will lead his guests into the dining hall for a meal. At the end of the meal the host will get up (he will probably murmur "thanks be to God" in Arabic) and will escort his guest to the front door where he will say farewell. The guests can then be expected to depart immediately afterwards. If the coffee is served after the meal, this is in deference to Western tradition.


Arabic coffee ranges in colour from grey to yellow and is flavoured with cardamom. It is served in small handleless cups. Coffee is served at almost every meeting: you should both accept it and drink it. It is polite to take at least two (very small) cups. If you wish for more, hold out your cup. When you have had enough, cover the cup with your hand and agitate a little and the manservant will take it away.

Incense and Rosewater

These ceremonies are performed less often nowadays, but they are a sign of respect. A holder of smoking incense is held in front of you. With your right hand you fan the smoke towards your face - a mere gesture is enough. Following the incense, or perhaps separately, rosewater is sprinkled over your hands in front of you, away from your clothes; failure to hold out your hands can result in your clothes being doused. The distribution of incense and/or rosewater is normally the signal to leave.

Women's Entertaining

Arab women, of course, entertain entirely separately. Their hospitality tends to be more relaxed, lengthier and more animated. Conversation is likely to be livelier and indeed more interesting.

Mixed Entertaining

In the modern Arabic, there are no set of rules for mixed entertaining. Arab wives will not appear in public but there is no difficulty of principle about Arabs entertaining Western women. Their problem is not one of resistance to foreign influence, but simply of not knowing precisely how their female guests should be treated. The term "honorary male" has been coined by British residents of Arabia and while it contains an essential truth (i.e. that the female guest is treated with respect in precisely the same way as a male guest) it conceals such practical issues as where the female guest will sit. This is a practical point, which can easily be ironed out by advance discussion. In practice, traditional Arab rules of protocol facilitate rather than complicate, eg:
1. The guest sits on the right hand of the host and the two "terms" would normally divide up, with the host's party to the left of the host and the guest's party to the right of the main guest.
2. Discussion is normally between the host and his principal guests.
3. Small talk between members of the two retinues is normally avoided.


It is not normal to make any display over giving or receiving of presents as is done in the West, and Arabs would be embarrassed by such display. The principle of gift giving is that the giver acquires the advantage, ie he is demonstrating that he knows the rules of hospitality. (To trump a host by giving him an equally impressive present would, therefore, be highly inappropriate: to make a fuss about a particular present in the Western style could imply that one is surprised that the host is doing the right thing). It is quite normal for presents to be sent round anonymously after the event and for no word of thanks to pass. In recent years, in an attempt to emulate or accommodate Western customs; some Arab hosts have made a practice of giving presents in public, but these are normally best avoided by advance preparation. Publicity should, wherever possible, be avoided.

Forms of address

In traditional Arabia, the "Ruler" was regarded as an equal of any tribesman; indeed many of the latter would regard him as socially inferior. With oil wealth has come a more hierarchic ordering of Arab society and honorific forms of address have become customary. They can be used quite liberally on early acquaintance but should be employed sparingly thereafter. Rulers and their Heir Apparents should be addressed as Your Highness, Ministers as Your Excellency. In Saudi Arabia, Princes should be addressed as Your Royal Highness or Your Highness depending on their rank.

Islam v Christianity

Islam lays down clearly the rights, privileges and duties of foreign communities, particularly Christians. The essential principle is that non-Islamic communities should make their own rules and do, as they like, provided they do not do it in front of Moslems. Purely British events in Arabic are therefore conducted according to British rules. Where Moslems are present, it is polite to show regard to their sensitivities, eg by offering non-alcoholic drinks quite separately from alcoholic drinks. Few Moslems are embarrassed by the sight of liquor: their concern is simply to avoid drinking it by mistake. (The same goes for pork).


The official language of Egypt is Arabic. However, in business circles, the tourist sector and among people who have had higher education, a fair amount of English (which is the most widely used business language after Arabic) and/or French is spoken. Many people have had some training in the USA or Europe. Correspondence can usually be written in English.
Taxi drivers often speak Arabic only; and for this reason it is advisable for foreigners who are not familiar with Egypt (Cairo) to have a hotel porter, for example, write down the address for the driver or to give it to him verbally.


About 90% of Egyptian people are Muslims, and Islam plays a very important part in the day-to-day life of Egyptian society, especially during Ramadan. Therefore, exporters interested in the Egyptian market are recommended at least to acquire a minimum knowledge of Islam. Basically, as a matter of course they should know that Fridays are non-working days, that pork is not eaten, and that, in principle at least, no alcohol is drunk.

The remainder of the people are on the whole Coptic Christians (about 9%), generally found throughout the country, but concentrated to a certain extent in Upper Egypt. The final 1% is made up mainly of Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Anglicans.


Public hygiene in the major towns and cities is, in general, reasonably good; drinking water in Cairo and Alexandria is usually safe, but short-stay visitors are recommended to drink only mineral water and/or boiled water. Even in the better hotels and restaurants, it is advisable to avoid salads and unpeeled fruit as well as ice in drinks. Visitors who are not used to the Middle East would be wise to avoid green salads and the more exotic dishes. Fish and shellfish should be avoided in Cairo in the summer months. Changes in temperature may occur suddenly, and so adequate clothing should be worn after sunset, particularly in winter and spring.

Many visitors are liable to suffer from stomach problems when staying in Egypt, not only because of infections via foodstuffs, but also because they tend to be rather rash with regard to clothing when moving between the warmth outside and the air-conditioned hotels and restaurants. Therefore, visitors are advised to take appropriate medicines with them, although such medicines are available locally. Cuts and abrasions should be treated immediately.

Information on health hazards, and on precautions to take when travelling abroad can be found in the leaflet "Health Advice for Travellers" which is available from main post offices. It is essential to take out full medical insurance when visiting Egypt as there are no reciprocal health care agreements between Egypt and the UK.




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