Difference between revisions of "Egypt"
Revision as of 06:52, 1 November 2006
Egypt (Arabic: مصر Misr / Másr; more fully, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: جمهوريّة مصر العربيّة Gomhuriat Masr Al-Arabiah) is a large country located in north-eastern Africa with its capital located in its largest city, Cairo. Egypt also extends into Asia by virtue of holding the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is bordered by Israel to the north-east, by Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the east (across the Red Sea), by Sudan to the south and by Libya to the west. The country is bounded by the Mediterranean and Red Seas (to the north and east respectively) and geographically dominated both by the River Nile and its fertile well-watered valley, and by the Eastern and Western deserts.
Egypt (together with its southern neighbour Sudan) is perhaps best known as the home of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, and - visible above all - its pyramids. Less well-known is Egypt's medieval heritage, courtesy of Coptic Christianity and Islam - ancient churches, monasteries and mosques punctuate the Egyptian landscape. Egypt stimulates the imagination of western tourists like few other countries and is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations world-wide.
Egypt can be divided into a number of convenient regions for the traveler:
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the the development of one of the world's great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose around 3200 B.C. and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 B.C., who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and who ruled for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks, took control about 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest by Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub, but also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt's government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty following World War II. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honored place of the Nile river in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to ready the economy for the new millennium through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.
Egypt is largely desert, an extension of the great Sahara Desert that bands North Africa. Save for the thin strip of watered land along the river Nile, very little could survive here As the ancient Greek historian stated: "Egypt is the gift of the Nile".
Generally, dry and very hot summers with moderate winters - November through to January are definitely the most comfortable months for travel in Egypt. There is almost no rain in the Nile valley, so you won't be needing wet weather gear! Do bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a sturdy hat however.
For a Fact Sheet on touring by Bicycle, see : http://users.utu.fi/mjkain/egypt/factsheet/
Banks, shops and businesses will close for the following Egyptian National Holidays (civil, secular). Public transport may run only limited services:
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the most important month in the Islamic Calendar for Muslims, the majority religion in Egypt. Commemorating the time when God revealed the Qur'an to Mohammed, during this holy month, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking or smoking until after sundown on each day. Although strict adherence to Ramadan is for Muslims only, some Muslims would appreciate that non-Muslims do not take meals or smoke in public places. During Ramadan, many restaurants and cafes won't open until after sundown. Public transport is less frequent, shops close earlier before sunset and the pace of life (specially business) is generally slow.
As expected, exactly at sunset minute, the entire country queits down and busy itself with the main meal of the day (iftar or breaking-fast) that are almost always done as social events in large groups of friends. Many richer people offer (Tables of the Gracious God موائد الرحمن ) in Cairo's streets that cater full-meals for free for the passers-by, the poorer ones or workers who couldn't leave their shifts at the time. Prayers become popular 'social' events that some like to enrich with special food treats before and after. An hour or two later, an astonishing springing to life of the cities takes place. Streets sometimes richly decorated for the whole month have continuous rush hours till very early in the morning. Some Shops and Cafes make the biggest chunk of their annual profit at this time of year. Costs of advertising on TV and Radio soars for this period and entertainment performances are at their peak.
Egypt consists of vast desert plateau interrupted by the Nile valley and delta.
The local currency is the Egyptian Pound (EGP), often written as LE. In Arabic it's called "gnieh" (جنيه).
Correct as of 16 February 2006:
Egypt is a shopper's paradise - especially if you're interested in Egyptian-themed souvenirs and kitsch, of course. That said, a number of high quality goods are to be had, often at bargain prices. Some of the most popular purchases include:
You will also find many western brands all around. There are many malls in Egypt, the most common being Citystars Mall, which is the largest entertainment center in the Middle East and Africa. You will find all the fast food restaurants you want such as Mcdonald's, KFC, Hardees, Pizza Hut, etc. Clothing brands such as Morgan, Calvin Klein, Levi's, Facconable, Givenchy, Esprit, and more.
Egypt can be a fantastic place to sample a unique range of food: not too spicy and well-flavoured with herbs. For a convenient selection of Egyptian cuisine and staple foods try the Felfela chain of restaurants in Cairo. Some visitors complain, however, that these have become almost too tourist-friendly and have abandoned some elements of authenticity.
One contributor recalls: "The best meal I ever had in Egypt was in the backstreets of Hurghada, a fish shop near the port which also cooked the catch. I went with wife and kids and just said make us happy. We were, the freshest fish, old benches to sit on with a communal table and company who were more interested in us and the kids than their meals, but a meal we still remember!"
Be aware that hygiene may not be of the highest standards, even in five star hotels. The number of tourists that suffer from some kind of parasite or bacterial infection is very high. Despite assurances to the contrary, exercise common sense and bring appropriate medications to deal with problems.
Bottled water is available everywhere, the most common brands being Baraka, Nestle Pure Life, Hayat, Aquafina, Dasani, Evian - drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration in Egypt's dry climate.
Juices can be widely found in Egypt - kasab(sugar cane); erk soos; sobiia; tamer and some fresh fruit juices.
Egypt is a predominately Muslim nation and alcoholic drinks are, of course, forbidden (haram) for strictly observant Muslims. That said, Egyptians tend to adopt a relaxed and pragmatic view towards alcohol for non-Muslims and foreigners it is tolerated by the vast majority of Egyptians and consumed by a sizable number of them (including less strict Muslims - you may even be asked to "procure" drink for someone!) Alcoholic beverages and bottled drinks are readily available throughout the country (especially in larger towns and cities, as well as tourist centres). Please note, however, that public drunkeness (especially the loud and obnoxious variety) is definitely not appreciated - without caution, you may end up drying out in a police cell. Try to be a good ambassador: if you must get "tipsy", confine it to the hotel or very nearby! (It's actually quite rare to see drunken tourists, even in the most intense tourist areas...)
Stella is a common beer in Egypt. For wine their is Ptomely among others.
Restrictions on Alcohol
Egyptian laws towards alcohol are officially quite liberal compared to most Islamic countries. Except for the month of Ramadan alcohol is widely available. During Ramadan only holders of foreign passports are allowed to buy alcohol, by Egyptian law. During Ramadan alcohol is only is sold in Western-style hotels and pubs/restaurants catering especially to foreigners. A few days of the year, as the day of the full moon the month before Ramadan, alchohol is completely banned. Also some hotels and bars catering to foreigners will stop serving alcohol during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - phone ahead to make sure alcohol is still being served in order to avoid disappointment.
There are local universities and also some foreign unversties like The American University in Cairo. There are also the German University , the British University , the French University and the Canadian University, and there are new ones which are not located in the center of Cairo.
American University in Cairo
The American University in Cairo  (AUC)offers degree, non-degree and summer-school study options. Popular courses include Arabic Language and Literature, Islamic Art and Architecture, Arab History and Culture, and (of course) Egyptology .
There exists a number of viable options for acquiring Arabic as a language in Egypt (other than picking it up from the locals):
You can also study at ILI/International House
Egypt is generally a safe and friendly country in which to travel. Egyptians on the whole are very friendly - if you are in need of assistance they will generally try to help you as much as they are able.
As in most Middle Eastern countries associated with large numbers of overseas travellers, recently there have been security concerns for Western travellers. Tourists from these areas have been targeted sporadically by militant groups, sometimes with tragic results.
The usual warnings for prudent behaviour apply, precisely as they would in New York or London: Try to avoid travelling together with large groups of foreigners, be suspicious of and report unattended packages...
The security situation in Egypt (as in many Middle Eastern countries) is frequently exaggerated by Western media outlets, creating a negative impression that is somewhat amplified by the heavy-handed policies of Egyptian authorities in keeping tourists safe. The reality is that travelling in Egypt is probably no more hazardous, with regard to terrorism, than visiting most Western capitals (and probably a lot safer!) Egypt relies heavily on foreign tourism for its national income and both Egyptians and their government are extremely keen to prevent any occurrence that might create a bad impression and keep tourists away.
Ensure that you drink plenty of water: Egypt has an extremely dry climate most of the year - a fact aggravated by high temperatures in the summer end of the year - and countless travellers each year experience the discomforts and dangers of dehydration. A sense of thirst is not enough to indicate danger - carry a water bottle and keep drinking! Not needing to urinate for a long period or passing very small amounts of dark yellow urine are signs of incipient dehydration.
Egyptian tap water is generally safe, although it does sometimes have an odd taste due to the high chlorine content added to make it so. It is not recommended for regular drinking, especially to very local differences in quality. Bottled mineral waters are widely available - the local brands, such as Baraka and Siwa, are just as good as expensive imported options. Beware of the old scam, however, whereby vendors re-sell bottled water bottles, having refilled with another (perhaps dubious) source.... Always check the seal is unbroken before parting with your money (or drinking from it) and inform the tourist police if you catch anyone doing this....
Be a little wary with fruit juice, as some sellers may mix it with water. Milk should also be treated carefully as it may not be pasteurised.... Try only to buy milk from reputable shops. Hot beverages like tea and coffee should generally be OK, the water having been boiled in preparation.
Wear sunscreen, wear a hat and bring good sunglasses - it's bright out there!
In order to avoid contracting the rightly dreaded schistosomiasis parasite (also known as bilharzia), DO NOT swim in the Nile or venture into any other Egyptian waterways (even if the locals are doing so.....) It is also a good idea not to walk in bare feet on freshly-watered lawns for the same reason. Seek medical attention immediately if you think you may have been exposed to the parasite - DO NOT wait until returning to your own country!
Keep in mind that most Egyptians workers expect tips after performing a service (baksheesh in Arabic).
If you're male, don't be surprised if another male holds your hand or forearm -- there's no taboo against men holding hands and unlike in the West, this behavior is NOT associated with being gay. In general, Egyptians are a lot more comfortable with less personal space than are most Westerners.
Another point is to note that, overall, Egyptians are a conservative people. Although they accomodate foreginers being dressed a lot more skimpily, it may be prudent, at least in the big cities, to not dress provocatively, if only to avoid being ogled at.
Egypt has a reasonably modern telephone service including a two GSM mobile service providers. Principal centers at Alexandria, Cairo, Al Mansurah, Ismailia, Suez, and Tanta. Roaming services are provided, although you should check with your service provider. Also, it is possible to purchase tourist mobile phone lines for the duration of your stay. The two mobile phone providers are Mobinil and Vodafone.
There are a number of internet providers. Most tourist towns, such as Cairo and Luxor, boast a plethora of small internet cafés - you won't need to look far!
In addition, an increasing number of coffee shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies and other locations now provide wireless internet access. To date, this is free so you can just walk into them with your laptop and internet away. Any of the numerous restaurant or location guides will list venues with such services.
There are a number of options for washing clothes whilst travelling in Egypt:
By far the easiest, most practical - and not at all expensive - is to arrange for your hotel to have your washing done for you. By prior arrangement, clothes left on the bed or handed in at reception will be returned to you by evening freshly laundered and pressed.
Determined self-helpers can persist with hand-washing or finding one of the many "hole-in-the-wall" laundries where the staff will wash and press your clothes manually - a fascinating process in itself!
Cairo possesses a few basic Western-style laundromats in areas where foreigners and tourists reside - they are virtually nonexistent elsewhere in the country. Some hotels in tourist towns like Luxor and Dahab offer a washing machine service in a back room - the machines are usually primitive affairs and you'll be left with the task of wringing and ironing your clothes yourself.
The moral of the tale?: Do yourself a favour, maximise your quality time in Egypt, and get the hotel to do your laundry for you!!