Way of life in Egypt


Way of life in Egypt

Egypt being a highly religious country, Islam governs a large number of acts of daily life. It is therefore not abnormal to recall the few principles of the Islamic religion, above all.

Principles of the Islamic religion

Islam (the word means in Arabic "submission to God"), it is today a community gathering about one-sixth of humanity, federated by its adherence to religion "revealed" to Mohammed in Arabia in the seventh century of our era. Islam does not distinguish the temporal from the spiritual. Its dogma, its institutions and its legislation are based on the Koran, enriched by the sunnah, a collection of the words and deeds of the Prophet. It is based on a monotheistic profession of faith: "There is no other deity than Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet." Religious practice requires the Muslim to fulfill five ritual obligations, called the "five pillars of Islam ": the profession of faith already mentioned, the five daily prayers, the fast of Ramadan, the payment of a" legal alms ", intended to cover certain expenses of public interest (mutual benefit fund. ..), finally, the accomplishment of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Among the duties that are no longer individual but collective is jihad, in the double sense of personal effort and the "holy war" which should lead to extending the reign of Muslim law and is now becoming more relevant.

Daily life

Political Egypt

The Arab Republic of Egypt is R.A.E. for lovers of acronyms. Its flag consists of three horizontal stripes in red, white and black. The white band is struck in the middle by a golden eagle. This eagle replaces since October 1984 the falcon, which had substituted itself for the star that adorned the middle band first.

The Constitution of September 11, 1971, amended several times, governs the country. The President of the Republic is elected for six years by universal suffrage. The restriction that he could not renew his term more than once was removed. The removal of this limitation occurred with the revision of the Constitution of May 1980, opening to the Rais the prospect of a "presidency for life".

The head of state appoints the members of the government and the prime minister. He can cumulate his presidential function and that of prime minister.

The People's Assembly, 53% of which is composed of peasants, is elected for five years. The last renewal took place in 1985.

The 360 ​​seats in this assembly are held by the representatives of the different parties who share the opinion. The National Democratic Party, presided over by the Head of State, is the dominant movement. The party's governing body consists of a 10-member executive committee, a 230-member central committee, and a national congress representing the sovereign authority.

The Egyptian territory is divided into twenty-five administrative districts, the governorates, themselves subdivided into 4,033 villages, equivalent of our communes.

As in the time of the pharaohs

Two thousand years of forgetfulness, the intervention of profound political changes, the upheaval of beliefs, nothing has done. In Egypt, the time of the Pharaohs still throbs under the landslides of History.

And the old Nilotic people remain attached to the pantheism of the time of Re, the Sun god, of Osiris the god of Vegetation, or of Ptah, the god of Memphis, creator of the Egg, that immutable nature him recalls every day. And he rubs Apis, the bovine god, and Horus, the fiery hawk. On the banks of the Nile, the grinding of the chadoufs, the fellahs dressed in their cotton dress, the weeding of the grounds or the repair of the dikes perpetuate spectacles, gestures and sounds that existed already four thousand years ago. The frescoes that the shelter of mastabas preserves testify.

Perhaps it is also necessary to seek very far in the unconscious of this people this taste for the civil service. Bonaparte had already noticed on his arrival in Egypt: "In no country of the world, the administration has as much influence on public prosperity as in Egypt. A lesson that the descendants of the scribes have not forgotten.

But, if this psychological climate gives free rein to the discussion, it is gestures, rites, rooted in the tradition of fellahs and which renew practices of the time of the Pharaohs.

In this country molded by the millennia, the traditions are tenacious. Thus some peasant festivals, in connection with the flood of the Nile - and which probably go back to the origins - are still celebrated. Certainly the regulation brought by the high dam has removed the cause. But the fellahs continue to celebrate the night of the Gout, which already honored the rise of the waters at the time of Ramses II and the cutting of dikes that are no longer practiced.

At each crossing of the Nile, the sailors of the feluccas perform a ritual gesture. These men of the river thus rediscover the time when, before being Moslems, their ancestors venerated Osiris, Re or Nout, the gods of the natural elements. A woman takes a little water from the river in a bowl and offers it to the crew. This rustic cut passes from hand to hand and everyone drinks a little of this water. This is the mark of the deep respect that residents have for the water of the Nile. A water that the fellahs never filter ... not to take away their life.

This almost innocuous gesture would be incomprehensible, separated from its ancient reference: the ceremonies of the feast of Opet, symbol of Fecundity. This holiday was celebrated towards the end of September when the Nile discharged its fertilizing flood. The statue of Amon, extracted from the naos of the Karnak Temple, was then placed on a sacred boat with all the signs of reverence. And especially she was sprinkled with a little water from the river. The boat was followed by three other boats in one of which enthroned the statue of the reigning pharaoh. The procession went up the river to the temple of Luxor, where the boats were carried on the backs of men to the sanctuary. There, they were deposited in chapels. Ten days later, the procession passed in the opposite direction. These ten days had been enough for Amon to fertilize Mut, his wife, in his "southern harem". Even today, in Luxor, a Muslim festival celebrates the beautiful season ... by taking a boat in the streets.

For the fellahs, the silt of the river, where the earth and the water are combined, symbolizes the principle of life. Before the deliverance, the pregnant woman of the fellah takes on the river bank a little earth that she will swallow during the delivery. This furtive gesture promises him a happy birth.

After birth, and if everything went well, the placenta of the parturient will be buried in the clay soil of her house and the umbilical cord, symbol of fertility, enclosed in a bag with some seeds of cereals will be buried in the father's field.

What is good for humans is good for plants. The sun and the earth together make spring primroses rise in the markets of Alexandria and Cairo. Season of renewal, first fruits, early vegetables. So, Egypt is celebrating Spring. It is Cham al-Nassim, literally "Scent of the breeze". This spring festival, whose date is set for the first Monday after the Coptic Easter, renews pagan rites that were practiced in the time of the pharaohs. Whole Egypt is in the street. Christians, Copts and Muslims mingle to celebrate the rebirth of the sun and fertility. The god Re still has not risen as the women start hanging bunches of onions over their front door. Then they choose the juiciest of them and rub the nose of their children. The eyes fog up, the tears flow They hunt evil spirits. And too bad for those who are still sleeping at this early hour; the year, for them, will be laziness.

Yes! These naive manifestations join Pharaonic ceremonies. The onions were offered to the god of Vegetation, Osiris.

You have to walk on the ocher and dusty paths of the Nilotic countryside to find now the eternal Egypt, counterbalanced by modernism. But, at the chance of the villages encountered, one still finds remains of crocodile nailed on the doors of the houses. Against the evil eye.

Gestures-symbols that punctuate life, from birth to death, distant echoes of a prestigious past. Should we see there only fossilized ceremonies, fragments of memories, avatars of old rites proper to Egyptian ethnology? Maybe not.

On this occasion, it should be remembered that the legend of Ali-Baba and the Forty Thieves, as reported by Galland in his translation of the Tales of the Thousand and One Nights, had been transmitted only by oral tales. The Arabic transcription was discovered in 1910 and its text must originate from Egypt judging by style and language. This suggests that the legend of Ali-Baba, too, is perhaps a heritage of the time of the pharaohs. According to the most eminent Egyptologists, it would be the adventures of a historical figure, named Thoutii, who lived in the time of Pharaoh Thutmosis III. This Thutyi, who was a general, was famous for his cunning to seize Jaffa. This trick is recounted on a papyrus: the cunning Thutyi managed to introduce into the square, by hiding in 500 baskets, warriors who helped him to seize this stronghold.

Habitat and everyday objects

"These are the same miserable villages, built with the same raw soil of the Nile silt mixed with the leaves of maize and dung, and still inhabited by the same illiterate, hungry, worn-out and decimated by disease. Nothing is different, nothing has changed ... "Since Tawfik al-Hakim has traced this disillusioned picture of rural life in the Delta, over the pages of his journal of a campaign substitute, some aspects villages have preserved their millennial characters. The villages carpeted by the river are always invisible, in the shade of rustling palm groves of birds. In the early morning, the same rumor rises from the cotton fields, the song of a fellah, happy to live, happy to feel the freshness that surrounds him, the mooing of a buffalo or the braying of a donkey.

In this campaign shaped by the Nile, each acre of wetland is reserved for crops. Houses do not have the leisure to spread. Moreover, the tax has ensured, from the time of the pharaohs, that the fellahs remain grouped. Everyone has found his account. Fans of conviviality as well as pious people, happy to be close to their mosque; and even the ordinary fellah, because this grouping once provided better protection against Bedouin raids. This distribution remains sensitive in the Delta and in Upper Egypt. Along the Middle Valley, a certain modernism begins to encourage the spread of rural farms. Even though the fellah is not allowed to build his house anywhere other than on barren land on the edge of the desert.

The desire to reserve good land for cultivation does not prevent the village from being surrounded by a few trees, acacias, sycamores or tamarisks, which give it an irregular shade. We enter the village by the gùrm. It is an area of ​​clay where each family performs the depicting of its cereals. The crop is spread out there and the norag, the sledge whose skate is bristling with iron blades, is turned to separate the grain from the chaff. A blindfolded buffalo turns and pulls this rural riding under the direction of the fellah perched on the sled. Then, the straw will be separated from the grain to the rake and the grain picked up with the wooden shovel to be piled in the bags. The silo, chanta, is never far from a community barn, a former dependency of a big landowner or a bank, and has generally become a stronghold of a rural cooperative since the agrarian reform. As for the cemetery, it is always apart, as forgotten in the already desert area. This brief picture corresponds to the Nilotic landscape. But the Fayum and some corners of Middle Egypt add to the village the particular touch of a large dovecote.

Nothing better suited to the environment than nilotic homes. Their earthen architecture seems modeled on the ground, confining itself to providing a few geometrical lines to a landscape drowned in dust. The adobe they are made of is an effective thermal insulator that provides a great freshness inside these constructions. One disadvantage with this material: it does not allow to build structures in height. In length, the Egyptian rural house consists of three rooms in a row on the ground floor, rarely floor.

The first room, the manadara, is a place of reception and work. The filtered day that filters through the door, the only usual opening of this volume (it is sometimes also ventilated by a small skylight), lets glimpse the few mats and the masonry bench which constitute the summary furniture. A communication door opens on the common room, half-kitchen, half-room, in which throne the oven where the cakes cook. Do not look for the chimney: it does not exist. The third room of the house, the zeriba, is often independent, but sometimes communicates with the exterior only through the two previous rooms. This disposition does not leave to be embarrassing when one knows that the zeriba serves as stable where sleep the donkey and the buffalo.

The flat roof is made of a cob lying on intertwined reeds supported by some joists. This blanket is insulated from the sun and serves as a dryer where piles of fagots and guillas pile up, dung and chopped straw cakes which will serve as fuel.

In this type plan, the fellah can add other rooms when his household is growing by birth or marriage or by livestock acquisition.

Only cities break this tradition of housing and introduce stone and cement into their architecture. Cities and Gournah!

For having attempted, in the 1940s, a return to ecological sources, for having proclaimed in Building with the people published in 1970, Fathy is a precursor. His experience, too innovative to succeed in Goumah, appears today of interest to the developing countries.

The fellah, the taxi driver, the official and the others

From dawn to night, the work mobilizes the whole family in the Egyptian countryside. Nobody escapes it. Even children. Outside of school hours (when there are any), shaved heads under the age of twelve are responsible for buffaloes, chickens and chicks. Through this pastoral mission, the little Egyptians of the Delta or Valley learn the harsh realities of rural life.

Older, the kid will lose his fine freedom to run through the alleys of the village or behind the reed hedges. His schedule, fixed by tradition, will assign him tasks to accomplish in the relative freshness of the house. His mother, the fellaha, deals with it, never far from the precious fist, the flat basin, the all-purpose container. This bowl was used for washing and washing. It is now used to sort the grain or beans. Just now, it will contain the dough that will have to knead for a long time to make the bettaw, the corn cake, the "sun bread".

The fellah, for his part, tinkers, repairs the tools, plaiting straps in basketry. It is to him that the role of external representation of the family belongs. So he will go to the market selling fresh eggs, mangos, chickens, peppers, he will negotiate interminable barter, he finally who will buy or sell the buffalo to pull the plow, or the donkey that serves means of transport.

While the pigeons coo in the shade of the tamarisks and the chickens giggle, invisible, the hot hours are as in a novel by Tawfiq al-Hakim. In the village square, the mizaïen is the barber, the apothecary and the dentist. In the shade of a palm tree, the baqqal, the grocer-lemonade, gives credit ... at usurious rates. The arrival of the chaer, the traveling musicians, unleashes the gallopades of a pack of children. There is no better than a chaer to tell the life of Muhammad in thrilling episodes. He knows how to hold breath for hours, children and parents, squatting on the doorstep. At dusk, the musicians will play the rabab, the simple viol, the flute made of a reed of the Nile or canûn, the zither.

As if to satisfy lovers of eternity, the feluccas with triangular sails sliding on the waters of the new reproduce in nautical version these scenes of genre of which the Egyptian campaign is so little stingy. But the most immutable of these ways of life, it is found mainly on the peeled ridges of the Arabian mountain or in the mineral deserts of Sinai. There, Bedouin tribes still live as they were in the early ages, nomadising behind their herds of goats in search of fresh pastures. They are seen descending to the immense waters of the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aqaba, the shepherds of the arid lands. They thus camp a few days under their brown tents. And their women, long ghosts dressed in black, come and go, rattling all their heavy bronze jewels. Then, discreetly, as they came, they leave, leaving the shore almost soft for the ruggedness of the mountains. Because such is the decree that the millennia fix on these men of nothingness. In contrast to these biblical mores, urban life is teeming, vibrating, exploding. And especially in Cairo, the capital seized with dementia, where twelve million inhabitants vie for space. Here, wandering is that of squatters who colonize public shelters, roof terraces, buildings under construction.

Nearly one million of them are home to tombs and mausoleums in the City of the Dead, the cemetery at the end of the ring road.

You have to watch the buildings. Thus the 'baib, the porter of the rich neighborhoods, who sleeps under the stairs or on the sidewalk, occupies an already prominent place in the social scale of these cities delivered to survival.

Here, trading is king. A cart serves as a stall, the least nook, workshop. The pole of this hectic and needy activity stands at the bazaar, world apart, labyrinthine, profuse. We find everything in its narrow streets, the spice souk, that of tinsmiths, that of pasta or household knickknacks. There is also color, smell and shade. The Cairo bazaar, Kan al-Qhalili, is one of the obligatory stages of a sightseeing tour through the Egyptian capital, a concentrate of its teeming life.

In the other cities of the country, the bazaar concentrates rather the meetings of the local trade. To settle important affairs or to spend a moment, men sit down to coffee. Sip tea with mint or one of three kinds of coffee: no sugar, little sweet or very sweet.

To quench your thirst, the street vendor suffices. The bells that signal its passage attract customers. In a copper or tin tank, carried like a backpack, he carries delicious beverages: Vassab, sugar cane juice, qarqadeh, infusion of dried flowers, liquorice, liquorice water. He fills little glasses that he carries on a tiny workbench, curled on his belly like an apron. The beverage vendor is part of the Egyptian street show as well as the taxi driver anxious to decorate his vehicle with a thousand gadgets "made in Hong Kong": tiny plastic dolls, colorful feathers, garlands, reels, etc. ., which transform Egyptian taxis into small kitsch museums.

While one walks slowly, to the sound of his bells, the other starts in a breeze, the car overloaded with customers, Klaxon unleashed, axles in agony when the old Mercedes or the old Dodge jolts from one bog to another. But the tumult of the street does not prevent the sage from sucking chicha, the Egyptian version of the narghile, one of the forms of oriental savoir-vivre.

Another fruit of a millennium experience, the proliferation of officials among the descendants of the scribes. In the administrative services, a plethoric staff strives throughout their life to justify their emoluments by a decomposition of the task, an overspecialization of the buffer, the buffer, the competent office, the service responsible, meaning for the user of Kafkaes postponements in the middle of a labyrinthine bureaucracy. It takes all the humor of the Egyptian to accept this state of affairs. "If you want to be respected, say a maxim, be neither peasant, nor soldier, nor priest, be a functionary."

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