Not Arabs. According to H.S Deighton, author of "The Arab Middle East and the Modern World" Egyptians are actually North Africans, not Arab or Middle Eastern. They are Arabic-speaking, and most of the population is predominantly Muslim, but Egyptians are Egyptian first and Arab only in consequence.
Egyptians are loyal, fun-loving and have a wicked sense of humour. They laugh at most things in their life, even if they are struggling.
Egyptians use old biscuit tins as tool boxes. They will turn an old sweater into a mop to clean the floor with. Egyptians will stick an old bar of soap onto a new bar of soap so that it doesn’t go to waste. It’s safe to say that they are resourceful.
Egyptians call Egypt “The motherland”, or “The mother of the entire world”, to be specific, but will be the first to criticize the traffic, the heat or the fact that their favourite Koshari shop closed down. They are patriotic people and will say “Ah you are the best people” if you mention that you hail from any Egyptian city, whether its Alexandria, Port Said or Tanta, if you’re from there you must be “the best people.”
Egyptians in the UAE
Some Egyptians chose to leave Egypt and live abroad. There are 400,000 living in the UAE. Most of them live in Dubai, Sharjah and the northern emirates, and only a few are based in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Some have been living here their whole life and would find it difficult to move back after adjusting to the pace of life here. Egypt is very much on the move and Cairo is the actual city that never sleeps.
If you’re lucky enough, you might hear your doorman have a loud chat on the street at 4 in the morning, and it will feel like he is talking right in your ear. The UAE is quiet and calm in comparison. Egyptians love it here. “It’s such a great place to live. I mean I love going back to Egypt, but when I’m in Abu Dhabi I feel safe and happy to be in a country that has such a strong vision for the future,” said Maisoon Mubarak, 26.
Egyptians in the workplace
According to statistics provided by the Egyptian embassy of Dubai, most Egyptians work in the construction field, specifically as engineers. Most Egyptian fathers aim for at least one of their children to be an engineer. Other popular jobs for Egyptians include pharmaceuticals, consulting, banking, customer service and call centres.
The younger generation is expanding the range of careers by taking on more creative positions including journalists, designers, architects, filmmakers and advertisers. “I think the goal was to work in an international company, rather than something that’s local to the Arab region, which is why I decided to move to Dubai. I wanted to give my career more global exposure,” said Mustafa Fahmy, 31.
Trials and tribulations
Egyptians are culturally raised in a very family-oriented way. It’s so important for siblings to grow up together, for parents to always be in the same country as their children and for there to be a strong sense of togetherness at home. Families may not be as tightknit or large in size as Palestinians or Syrians, who commonly live together in one large family house, yet Egyptians still grow up with a ‘family comes first’ mentality and always have meals together.
When living in the UAE, it’s a little difficult to have the feeling of a big family, since the extended family usually lives back in Egypt. What many Egyptians do instead, is form strong, long lasting friendships with other Egyptians living here. Egyptians have a unique sense of humour that requires the presence of other Egyptians in their life to understand it.
They can’t resist dropping hilarious jokes, which with an audience of a different culture, the punchline may not come across as intended. “Don’t get me wrong! I love the fact that my friendship circle is so multicultural and that everyone is from a different background, but sometimes my humour is a bit different and translating my jokes kind of kills it,” said Omar Abdel Rahman.
Other trials that Egyptians go through are similar to what other overseas workers experience in the UAE. In Egypt, it’s affordable and manageable to put all your children through school. Many private schools have raised their fees over the last 10 years, which has made it difficult for some. In Egypt most produce is grown locally, therefore more affordable as well.
It’s easier to eat a healthy diet there, since people in Egypt, even in the cities, can shop directly from the farmer, they tend to avoid large grocery stores. The UAE on the other hand is safe, less crowded, better infrastructure and a more comfortable life. “Life is expensive here. It’s tough when you have to take care of an entire family, but the outcome is definitely worth the sacrifice. My kids have a great education, it’s safe for them to bike around the neighbourhood and we get to live a peaceful life,” explained Mohammed Saeed, 43.
The older generation of Egyptians living in the UAE, enjoy spending their evenings in coffee shops, known as “ahwa” in Arabic, catching up and watching football matches. Most cafes that host Egyptians are usually owned by Egyptians and the staff is also Egyptian. They serve food and beverages from back home as well as shisha. Most of these cafes have traditional board games like backgammon, a very popular way to pass time and cards.
The younger generation has various interests. It’s rare to find them at Egyptian style coffee shops unless there is a game on. They prefer a more modern version of the UAE. Good restaurants, relaxing lounges and of course clubs with loud music. Young Egyptians living here have energy. They are always the last to leave any event, they dance all night long and of course have to end their late night with a falafel sandwich at the three in the morning.
They sleep in on weekends and spend their mornings by the beach. “To be honest, I just like to hang out with my friends. Whether we are all at my house, or whether we’re having breakfast together, it’s the company that matters to me,” said Maha Sherbiny, 32.
Egyptian cultural clubs are also a great place for Egyptian people to meet. There are plenty of them including in Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Abu Dhabi. These are places where all Egyptians are welcome to relax and mingle. They host sporting events, cultural events and family friendly parties for all overseas Egyptians. “I am not that homesick. Most of my friends are Egyptians and I can eat Egyptian food whenever I am in the mood. The UAE has done a great job at incorporating a lot of our favourite things here,” said Mohammed El Hawary, 42.
Thankfully, the UAE makes Egyptians feel like they are living in a home away from home. From their inclusion of Egyptian cuisine, with a new koshari restaurant popping up in every neighbourhood, to the appreciation of their music and movies in the entertainment industry, Egyptians don’t have to look far to find a little bit of home right here in the Gulf.