Egypt : The People


Approximately 32,500,000 people live in Egypt. Peasant farmers called
fellahin make up over 60 percent of the population. But less than 4 percent of
Egypt\'s land is suitable for farming. Before the leaders of the 1952 revolution
introduced land reform, less than 2 percent of the landowners owned half of the
land available for farming. Most of the fellahin were tenants or owned very
tiny farms. A man who owned 3 to 5 acres was considered well-off. Now no one
is permitted to own more than 50 acres, and the average Egyptian farm is
generally much smaller than that.
An Egyptian farmer\'s main tools are the hoe, a simple plow, and the
sakia, or waterwheel. The fellah, his wife, and their children all work
together in the fields. The dreary routine of their lives is relieved only on a
few occasions-the group prayer in the mosques on Fridays, religious feasts, and
family events such as weddings or the circumcisions of young boys.
A farmer\'s most valuable possession is the water buffalo, cow, or ox
that helps him with the heavy farm work. The water buffalo or ox draws the plow,
turns the waterwheel, and pulls the nowraj. The nowraj is a wooden platform
mounted on four or five iron disks. The sharpened edges of the disks crush the
stalks of wheat so that the grain can be separated from the chaff. The water
buffalo or cow also supplies the fellah\'s family with milk and with calves that
can be sold. Very often the fellah shares his house with his animals. This is
unsanitary, but it is the farmer\'s preferred way of protecting them. The theft
of an animal could mean economic catastrophe for the poor fellah.
The fellah wears a loose, long cotton robe called a gallabiyea, loose
cotton pants, and a wool cap, which he makes himself. For special events he
makes a turban by folding a white sash around the cap. Flat, yellow slippers
complete the fellah\'s outfit.
The fellah, the wife of the fellah, wears dresses with long sleeves and
trailing flounces and a black veil, which she sometimes uses to cover her face.
On market days and other special occasions the women wear earrings, necklaces,
bracelets, and anklets. These ornaments are usually made of beads, silver,
glass, copper, or gold. They make a pleasant musical sound as the fellah walks
along the dusty lanes of the village.
Most of Egypt\'s fellahin live in the villages along the Nile. The
villages invariably look gray because the houses are whitewashed only for
important events suck as weddings. The houses are usually small and huddled
together without planning.
The typical house is made of sunbaked bricks, which keep the indoors
cool during the summer. There are only one or two bedrooms, an animal shed and
a small courtyard. The bedroom might contain a bed made of wood or iron, but
the fellah\'s family usually sleep on mats made of reeds.
The house of a wealthier fellah has a living room and an upper story
with extra bedrooms and storage space. The living room is furnished with long
wooden seats, a few chairs, and reed mats.
In many villages the women still draw water from one of the Nile canals
and carry it home in water jars balanced gracefully on their heads. But many
other villages now have a clean water supply. In these villages there is a pump
in the village square. Water from the pumps is carried home in the traditional
jars or tin containers. Water pipes have been extended into a few homes. The
houses are usually lit by kerosene lamps. However, since the opening of the
Aswan Dam, electrical service is being extended throughout Egypt.
The most important places in any Egyptian village are the mosque or the
Coptic Church, the house of the headman, the rural social center, the police
station, and the market. The mosgue and church are often used as schools as
well as houses of worship.
Weekly or biweekly, the fellahin flock to the village market, or souk.
In the souk the farmers buy and sell cows, water buffalo\'s, donkeys, camels,
sheep, and goats, as well as agricultural and dairy products. In the larger
markets, food, clothing, jewelry, and farm tools are bought and sold. Water and
soft drinks are sold by vendors who sing or shout their wares. The market is a
noisy place as the fellahin continually haggle and bargain at the top of their
lungs. No transaction is concluded without bargaining, or fissal. Prices are
decided by a series of compromises. Religious vows