People of Egypt

People of Egypt Last updated on Friday 16th April 2010

Although modern day Egyptians are usually lumped together with "the Arabs" due to their language and Islamic traditions, this is not completely accurate. There is a truly Bedouin Arab grouping within Egypt, the majority still nomadic tribal peoples living in isolated oases and roaming through the country's vast desert regions. Many Bedouin Arabs are settled in the Sinai Peninsula and along the Red Sea coast, across from Arabia.

However, anthropologically, the majority of indigenous Egyptians trace their ancestry back to the Semetic tribe of Ham. Their physical appearance and cultural traditions are distinct from all other Middle Eastern peoples.

The third main racial grouping in Egypt is comprised of the Nubian peoples who lived for thousands of years in their own land along the Nile, called Nuba, which overlapped from Upper Egypt into northern Sudan. Most of Nuba was flooded in the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser with the construction of the Aswan high dam and the creation of the artificial Lake Nasser. The Nubians were resettled by the government but much of their ancient culture and stunning architectural tradition has been lost.

For millenia wave upon wave of conquerors has passed through Egypt, leaving traces in their descendants. Romans, Greeks and, more recently the Turks, Circassians (Mamluks) and even French and English have intermarried with the Egyptians, adding further to the cosmopolitan melting pot. For half a century the rural population has shifted to the main urban centres in search of employment.

Until today nearly half the population reside in overcrowded cities. To remedy this, the Egyptian government has inaugurated a series of incentives to try and lure many Egyptians away from Cairo and Alexandria. Part of this programme includes the construction of industrial cities located well outside the main centres and the programme seems to be meeting with a measure of success.

There are a number of other small distinct minorities including Berbers, most of whom live around Siwa oasis (pictured), and the 7 million Copts who share the same racial background as their indigenous Muslim countrymen but who were among those who remained wedded to their ancient Christian beliefs and traditions.

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