Family is a very important part of life for Egyptian people and a significant component of Egyptian society. As Egypt is a largely society, the needs of one’s family or community typically take precedence over one’s personal needs or desires. plays an important role in social relations, and the general perception is that the individual is subordinate to the family. The family consists of both the nuclear unit and the extended family. Given the emphasis placed on traditional family values such as loyalty to the extended family network, communal living and sharing are widely prevalent in Egyptian culture.
Families tend to be close to one another, both emotionally and physically. It is the norm for Egyptians to live with their extended family and often one will find three generations living together. Moreover, grown-up unmarried children (often the eldest son or daughter) tend to stay with their parents until they marry. On occasion, the son will stay with his parents to fulfil his obligation to care for his parents as they age. Newlywed women tend to leave their parents’ home to live with in-laws. Even when family members don’t live in close proximity, extensive ties are maintained through frequent family gatherings.
Household Structure and Women
Authority tends to lie with the eldest in the household, irrespective of gender. However, the typical household structure is , with authority tending to come from the most senior male. Moreover, men tend to have more influence than women in terms of decision-making. The majority of Egyptian society is conservative, and there is a general expectation for women to fulfil traditional roles such as child rearing and household labour, with these responsibilities perceived to be exclusively for women.
It is relatively uncommon for women to approach and engage in conversation with men who are not a part of the family unless it is a boss, colleague or sales clerk. If the woman’s husband or relative is present, a male sales clerk will talk to the man rather than the woman herself. However, Egypt’s cosmopolitan elite may reflect more Western attitudes and values. Middle to upper class women living in the larger cities often live a more liberal lifestyle than that of their rural counterparts. Although more prominent in major cities, generally it is the case that both housewives and working women are accepted and respected in Egyptian society.
Traditionally, women carry greater expectations of social compliance and are sometimes seen as particularly vulnerable targets that need to be protected. A mistake or an instance of loss of control by a woman is still sometimes interpreted as a failure of the of the family to protect her from doing so. While attitudes of blend with the concept of honour, the Egyptian Revolution fueled new conversations about these customs and their relevance in contemporary Egyptian society (see ‘Egyptian Revolution’ in Core Concepts).
Dating and Marriage
Dating is not a widespread practice, although the attitudes among some Egyptians, particularly in urban areas, are becoming more Westernised. The idea of ‘purity’, especially for women, is an important value in marriage arrangements. Traditionally, arranged marriages between the heads of families were common, often with little input from the couple involved. In contemporary Egyptian society, individuals have more decision-making power over whom they marry. However, marriage still entails negotiation among family members and may include the use of a matchmaker. There is a tendency to marry those within the same age group, level of education, social class and religion. arranged marriages still occur, typically with the woman marrying a cousin from her father’s side of the family.
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