Egypt is a recognised cultural pioneer in the Arabic-speaking world. Contemporary Arab and Middle Eastern culture is strongly influenced by Egyptian literature, music, cinema and television. In the 1950s and 1960s, Egypt played a leading regional role, which gave an additional and lasting boost to the reputation of Egyptian culture in the Arabic-speaking world.
Egyptian identity evolved over a long period of occupation to accommodate Islam, Christianity and Judaism; and a new language, Arabic, and its spoken descendant, Egyptian Arabic, which is also based on many words from ancient Egypt.
The work of the scholar Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, from the beginning of the 19th century, revived interest in Egyptian antiquity and introduced Egyptian society to the principles of the Enlightenment. Tahtawi, together with the educational reformer Ali Mubarak, founded an indigenous school of Egyptology on the model of medieval Egyptian scholars such as Suyuti and Maqrizi, who had themselves studied the history, language and antiquities of Egypt.
Egypt’s renaissance reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries thanks to the work of people such as Muhammad Abduh, Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, Muhammad Loutfi Goumah, Tawfiq el-Hakim, Louis Awad, Qasim Amin, Salama Moussa, Taha Hussein and Mahmoud Mokhtar. They established a liberal path for Egypt, which was expressed in a strong commitment to the principles of individual freedom, secularism and a belief in progress made through science.
The Egyptians were one of the first great civilizations to codify design elements in art and architecture. Egyptian blue, also known as calcium copper silicate, is a pigment that has been used by the Egyptians for thousands of years. It is regarded as the very first synthetic pigment.The murals created in the service of the pharaohs followed a strict code of rules and visual meanings. Egyptian civilization is known for its colossal pyramids, temples and monumental tombs.
Well-known examples include the Pyramid of Djoser, designed by the former architect and engineer Imhotep, the Sphinx and the Temple of Abu Simbel. From the vernacular architecture of Hassan Fathi and Ramses Wissa Wassef to the sculptures of Mahmoud Mokhtar and the distinctive Coptic iconography of Isaac Fanas, modern and contemporary Egyptian art is as diverse as any work on the international art scene. The Cairo Opera House is the main venue for the performing arts in the Egyptian capital.
Egyptian literature has its origins in ancient Egypt and is among the oldest known literatures. In fact, the Egyptians were the first culture to develop literature as we know it today, i.e. the book. It is an important cultural element in the life of the Egyptians. The novelists and poets from Egypt were among the first to experiment with the modern style of Arabic literature, and the style they had developed has been widely copied across the Middle East. Zaynab, the first modern Egyptian novel written by Muhammad Husayn Haykal, was originally released in Egyptian on 1913. The Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was the first Arab-language writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Egyptian writers include Nawal El Saadawi, known for her feminist activism, and Alifa Rifaat, who also writes about women and tradition.
Popular poetry represents the favourite Literary style among the Egyptians, exemplified in the works of Ahmed Fuad Negm (Faghmi), Salah Jaheen and Abdel Rahman el-Abnoudi.
Egypt’s media industry is thriving, with more than thirty satellite channels and over a hundred feature films produced each year.
The Egyptian media is very influential throughout the Arab world, due to its large audience and its increasing freedom from state control. Media freedom is guaranteed in the constitution, but many laws still limit this right.
With the advent of sound, Egyptian cinema has become a regional force. In 1936, Studio Misr, financed by the industrialist Talaat Harb, became the first Egyptian studio, a role it retained for three decades. For more than 100 years, more than 4,000 films have been produced in Egypt, three quarters of the total Arab production. Egypt is considered to be the leading country in the Middle East in the field of cinema. Actors from all over the Arab world aspire to appear in Egyptian cinema to become famous. The Cairo International Film Festival has been ranked by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations as one of the 11 highest rated festivals in the world.
Egyptian music is a rich blend of indigenous, Mediterranean, African and Western elements. It has been an integral part of Egyptian culture since ancient times. The ancient Egyptians attributed to one of their gods, Hathor, the invention of music, which Osiris in turn used in his efforts to civilise the world. Since then, the Egyptians have used musical instruments.
The beginnings of contemporary Egyptian music can be traced back to the work of people such as Abdu al-Hamuli, Almaz and Mahmoud Osman, who influenced the later work of Sayed Darwish, Umm Kulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Abdel Halim Hafez, whose era is considered to be the golden age of music in Egypt and throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Among the great contemporary Egyptian pop singers are Amr Diab and Mohamed Mounir.
Today, Egypt is often regarded as the home of belly dancing. There are two main styles of Egyptian belly dance: raqs baladi and raqs sharki.There are also many folk and character dances that can be part of a belly dancer’s repertoire in the Egyptian style, as well as the modern street dance shaabi, which shares some elements with raqs baladi.
Egypt has one of the oldest civilisations of the world.It has been in contact with many other civilizations and nations and has passed through so many eras, from prehistoric times to modern times, including Pharaonic, Roman, Greek, Islamic and many others. Due to the diversity of these periods, the constant contact with other nations and the number of conflicts that Egypt has experienced, there are at least 60 museums in Egypt, mainly covering a wide range of these periods and conflicts.
The three most important museums in Egypt are the Egyptian Museum with more than 120,000 pieces, the Egyptian National Military Museum and the Panorama of October 6th.
The Great Egyptian Museum (GEM), also known as the Giza Museum, is a museum under construction that will house the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the world, it has been called the largest archaeological museum in the world. The museum is scheduled to open in 2015. It will be located on a 50-hectare site about two kilometres from the Giza Necropolis and is part of a new master plan for the plateau.
Egyptian cuisine is particularly well suited to a vegetarian diet, as it relies heavily on vegetable dishes. While the cuisine of Alexandria and the Egyptian coast tends to be very rich in fish and shellfish, the cuisine of Egypt is mainly composed of ingredients that are growing from the ground. Meat has always been very expensive for most Egyptians, so a large number of vegetarian dishes have been developed.
Koshari ( a blend of rice, lentils and macaroni) is considered to be the national dish. Fried onions can also be added to koshari. In addition, ful medames (bean purée) is one of the most popular dishes. Beans are also used to prepare falafel (also called “ta’meyya”), which originated in Egypt and may have spread to other parts of the Middle East. Roasted garlic with coriander is added to mulukhiyya, a popular green soup made from finely chopped jute leaves, sometimes with chicken or rabbit.