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Topic of the Issue
Egyptian Traits - Part III: Sense of Family
Wednesday, December 1 (Issue 9)
by Raymon Kondos

CAIRO ( - Egyptians have a strong and deep sense of family. They yearn to cohesiveness and solidarity of a one big family. The pride of a family member is that of the whole family and his/her disgrace is also that of the family.
For Egyptians the sense of belonging to a family is not the one that is limited to the parents and their kids. It is a far broader meaning that includes father, mother, children, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and scores of cousins. In other word the family starts with a grandfather, and sometimes from a higher level.

But despite the fact that cousins are part of this close family relationship, first cousin marriages are much encouraged by some families. The reason for that is simple: the more marriages are being held within the family, the more likely this family is going to be strong and the influence it will leave in the society will have a greater effect.

A head of an Egyptian village family centering two of his sons
A head of an Egyptian village family centering two of his sons

A bachelor son and daughter are likely to remain at their folks till the day they get marry, while this attitude is not regarded with negativity. This involves much reliance on the parents in expenses and living. The family feels obliged to protect and shelter its children to the day they become independent and on their own, and that day is defined as marriage. The responsibility extends to cover support and interference in the marriage decision itself, and paying the greater share of the marriage expenses, with the parents usually providing the flat or the house of the future marriage, particularly for their male sons. This tradition has developed due to the fact that no fresh graduate or adult can provide expenses to buy a house with current average low wages in Egypt among the majority of the population which remains below the poverty line.

And even after marriage, much responsibility is put on the parents to take care of this small family, and to look after its newborns. In rural and remote areas, married sons and daughters don't even leave the big family house to their own. A son may marry in his parent's house and they can all share the same place. Another alternatives is own flats in one big family house or building. Some building take the form of family colonies, completely restricted to specific families, for example parents living in a flat, and each of their married sons living in other flats.

Also, in Egypt it is a custom to use the names of one's father and grandfather as surnames. So Ahmed Mohamed Ibrahim Abbas is actually Ahmed son of Mohamed son of Ibrahim son of Abbas. But for some families, it is very important to retain a known family name, which could have been inherited for several hundred years. This habit is highly respected among known and famous families and in villages and rural areas.

The fact a father's name is used and inherited makes fathers eager to beget sons "that will pass on their names to next generations." Female-only offspring is looked upon as a termination of name inheritances, and accordingly many families would beget as much children as possible to find as much name-bearing males as possible.

"I want a son who would bear my name after my death" is one of the most famous phrases a father may say to express his passion for children. It is part of rejoice and pride in begetting children.

While Egypt is not at all a tribal society, the sense of family takes the same form. A family member should strive to protect and stand for his big family to death. Failure to do so means disappointment to the family. This is much evident in crimes of honors, when male family members are likely to stand up in defense of the pride of their family from what they believe to be disgrace. Crimes of honors are usually committed when a female member develops an extramarital relationship.

Circulation of female names is sometimes unwelcomed, especially in rural areas. A mother is likely to be referred to with the name of her eldest son. The article Om which means mother of is likely to be used accompanied by the son's name; so Om Mohamed means the mother of Mohamed and replaces the original name of a mother. It is also part of the pride that a family feels in its offspring.

. Food Habits in Egyptian Key Events (issue 1)
. Egyptian Matrimony: Man Got to Do it All (issue 2)
. The Egyptian Identity: Pharoahs, Moslems, Arabs, Africans, Middle Easterners or Mediterranean People? (issue 3)
. Egypt . Glimpse over its Society, Language and Religion (issue 4)
. Egyptian Traits - Part I: Inshallah (God Willing) (issue 5)
. Om Kalsoum: Legendary Singer and Mother of the Egyptian Nation (issue 6)
. Egyptian Traits - Part II: Greetings and Hospitality (issue 7)
. The Egyptian Oriental Belly-Dance: Beauty Expressed in Movement (issue 8)

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