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People and Society, Ways of Life

Adil Imam, kushari, Kulthum, popular beverages, male head

Two major socioeconomic groupings exist in Egypt. One grouping consists of a wealthy elite and a Western-educated upper middle class. The other grouping, which includes the vast majority of all Egyptians, is made up of peasants and the urban lower middle class and working class. There are great differences in clothing, diet, and consumer habits between the two groupings.

In the 1970s the government introduced economic liberalization policies known as the open door (infitah in Arabic). These policies greatly expanded the numbers of middle-class professionals (importers, financiers, commercial agents, and various kinds of middlemen) with connections to foreign capital and foreign culture. These professionals are major consumers of imported luxury cars, European fashions, and European and American films and music. The lifestyle of the old, wealthy elite is similar.

The wealth, lifestyle, and foreign cultural orientation of the old elite and the newly rich contrast sharply with the poverty of the vast majority of the population. Most Egyptians cannot afford, and in some cases do not want, much of what they see advertised on television, in the newspapers, and on urban billboards, or glorified in Western television serials.

Both major groupings enjoy a few of the same aspects of popular culture. These include soccer, the popular music of legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, and the comic films of actor ĎAdil Imam.

In the past, women from peasant and poor urban families worked in the fields or in the shops of their families, while women from the elite and the middle class remained at home as a symbol that the male head of the household was wealthy enough to support the family without its women working outside the home. Today maintaining a middle-class lifestyle usually requires married women to work for wages. Many wear headscarves as a way of asserting that they remain good Muslim women despite working outside the home.

The most popular items of Egyptian cuisine are flatbread, boiled or deep-fried fava beans, kushari (a dish combining pasta, lentils, and onions), and fresh fruits and vegetables. Tea and coffee are the most popular beverages and are essential components of social and business visits. Wealthier Egyptians frequently eat European food, especially French cuisine.

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