Facts about Egypt
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Egypt fact file - Society and Culture

Population and ethnicity
Egypt 's population is around the 66 Million mark, with 16 million living in Cairo - the most populated city in Africa. The Nile valley supports the majority of the remainder of the population. Egypt has a history of ethnic and religious tolerance, and is home to small communities of Greeks, Jews, Kurds, Armenians and Albanians, known collectively as the Levant.

The main driving force behind Egypt 's cultural idiosyncrasies is Islam, which is practised by 94 percent of the population, the rest being largely orthodox Coptic Christians, with a small Jewish community in Cairo. The impact of Islam is felt throughout society, affecting issues ranging from what you can see at the cinema to Egypt 's political global status.

Egypt has been a tourist destination since the 1880's, and tourism provides the largest single contribution to the economy. Canal tolls for passage through he Suez earn Egypt around USD1.5 billion a year. A large amount of the country's energy consumption is provided by the hydroelectric plant at Aswan, although Egypt also has some oil and gas reserves. The country's major cash crop is cotton.

Women and women travellers
Since the twenties women have fighting for a stronger political voice and although a lot of ground has been made, Egyptian society remains distinctly patriarchal. While the days of women travelling in separate carriages on public transport seem to be numbered, many still wear the all encompassing abeyya and female tourists will make their lives much easier if they cover their legs and arms. When visiting a mosque women must cover their heads and remove their shoes. While Egyptian women are among the most liberated in the Arab world, the rise of fundamentalism proves a constant threat to their status.

Social Mores
As a traveller the first likely meeting with Islam is when visiting a mosque. Mosques should be visited outside of prayer time(Friday at noon is the week's most important meeting). Legs and arms must be covered, shoes removed and it's and it's customary to leave a donation.

Another potential area for committing cultural blunders is the subject of photography. Many Muslims are sensitive about having their photograph taken, and should be asked first. It's also forbidden to take photographs of military installations and government buildings.

Egyptians are a tactile people and don't put a premium on personal space, so don't be surprised when you're addressed at close quarters. It's easy to form the wrong impression of Egyptians having been lured into your eighth perfume shop of the day, but once outside of the tourist areas their true hospitality flowers.

It's not uncommon to be invited into someone's home for a meal, where communal food should be eaten with the right hand as the left is used for bodily hygiene. It's considered complimentary to leave some food on your plate, indicating satiation and abundance. On returning hospitality it's important to remember that Egyptians customarily refuse the first offering, so it pays to be persistent.

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- Cairo
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