Food Has a Huge Place in Egyptian Culture

Egyptian Culture

Understanding the culture, traditions, values and ethics of the people of Egypt requires an assessment into the various aspects of their lives. As quoted by Kofi Annan (2019) “We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.” Being culturally competent as a nurse means providing skilled patient care to patients with different backgrounds.


Many traditions, values and ethics of Egypt come from the nomadic desert tribe of the Arabian Peninsula (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

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Arabic is the common tongue among the Arab population with English being their second language (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). Different from the English alphabet, the Arabic script uses 28 letters in which words are written right to left (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, 2017).

There are so many differences with the Arabic language compared to the English language that this alone can cause a problem in a health care setting. Thus, it is important for a nurse to recognize this and proceed with an interpreter for better communication.

Education & Occupation

Basic low-quality education is free in Egypt with the ninth grade being the highest grade to complete (Manning, 2012). Every time a new leader in Egypt is elected there is a shift in the education policy and its structure (Manning, 2012). Agricultural is big business in Egypt which makes one in every three workers a farmer; sowing, tending and harvesting crops or raising animals like chickens or goats (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

An Arab diet is representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid which makes the majority of all their meals having no preservatives and made from scratch (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

Religion & Food Rituals

The most important meal in an Arab family is lunch and must always be served with bread; bread represents a gift from God. To share a meal with family and friends is a way for an Arab to express love and friendship, hospitality, and generosity (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). Food is eaten with the right hand because it is considered clean; and beverages are always served after the meal because it is considered unhealthy to eat and drink at the same time (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

In Egypt, there are a lot of rituals that are part of an Arab’s lifestyle which makes it important for a nurse to know in order to avoid an unfavorable situation.

The dominant religion is Islam which is practiced by the majority of Egypt’s population (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). For a nurse it is valuable to understand what Ramadan is, which is the Muslim month of fasting. Muslims insist on fasting while hospitalized; if giving medication it is best to give it at night considering eating and drinking during daylight hours is forbidden. A nurse needs to consider that Muslims cannot eat pork and pork products as well (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

If an Arab is an inpatient the nurse should be aware that he or she may want their chair or bed to face a certain way, towards the holy city of Mecca, and that a basin of water be provided for ritual washing before prayer. A Muslim’s prayer is not acceptable unless the body, clothing, and place of prayer are clean (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

If the Arab is terminally ill it is best to keep the bad news for as long as possible because illness is considered punishment for one’s sins (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). Egyptians believe that they could be subject to litigation after death, just as they were during life (Thompson, 2017). Immediately following a death, the deceased is washed three times by the same sex and wrapped in a white material. The deceased is then buried immediately or on the following day facing Mecca (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

Health Promotion

Arabs associate good health with eating properly, consuming nutritious foods, and fasting to cure diseases (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). It is believed that illness is related to excessive eating, eating before a previously eaten meal is digested, eating nutritionally deficient food, mixing opposing types of food, and consuming elaborately prepared foods (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

Some Muslims can be so particular that they will refuse to eat meat that is not slaughtered in an Islamic manner. When giving care to an Arab it is important to remember that their values are quite different than Americans. In Arab culture familism, and reliance on God’s will influence health care and responses to illness (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

Arabs will readily seek care for actual symptoms but preventative care is not generally sought. The family members assume the ill person’s responsibilities and may seem overly protective of the patient. It is important to be mindful of the patient’s modesty and dignity and to avoid unnecessary touch (including shaking hands) between unrelated adults of the opposite sex Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

One of the most popular and cherished Egyptian celebrations is the celebration for welcoming babies into the world (Kassem, 2018). A tradition called the Sebou’ is a tradition that dates back to ancient Egypt and is observed by all Egyptians, regardless of religion. It is similar to our pre-birth baby shower however, the celebration can last a couple of weeks or even months after the child is born (Kassem, 2018).

Care for the infant includes wrapping the stomach at birth, or as soon thereafter as possible, to prevent cold or wind from entering the baby’s body (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). If an Arab mother is experiencing postpartum depression a health care provider may never know. It is a major social stigma and symptoms will be denied. Arabs consider mental illness as bad nerves or it is blamed on evil spirits.

Female family members will step up and assume care of the newborn telling the mother she needs more help or more rest (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). For Muslim religion it is required for a male to be circumcised and in some parts of Egypt female circumcision is practiced (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

Diseases and Health Conditions

The major public health concerns in Egypt include trauma related to motor vehicle accidents, maternal-child health, and control of communicable diseases (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). Tuberculosis, malaria, trachoma, typhus, hepatitis, typhoid fever, dysentery, and parasitic infestations varies between urban and rural areas and from country to country (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). Living in the countryside where animals such as goats and sheep are sharing living quarters puts Arabs at a higher risk for disease.

Open toilets are commonplace and running water is not available. Egypt’s number-one health problem is caused by Arabs washing, drinking and urinating in the Nile River thus contracting Schistosomiasis from a parasitic flat worm (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

Family Roles

Family is a very important part of life for Egyptian people. The family consists of both the nuclear unit and the extended family (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013). Women are subordinate to men, and young people are subordinate to older people. Men are breadwinners, protectors, and decision makers, whereas women are responsible for the care and education of children and for maintenance of a successful marriage by tending to their husband’s needs (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

Raising children so they reflect well on the family is an extremely important responsibility. Family reputation is important; children are expected to behave in an honorable manner and not bring shame to the family (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

Typically, the father is the disciplinarian, whereas the mother is an ally and mediator, an unfailing source of love and kindness. Methods of discipline include physical punishment and shaming; children are made to feel ashamed because others have seen them misbehave (Kulwicki & Ballout, 2013).

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Food Has a Huge Place in Egyptian Culture. (2022, Jul 01). Retrieved from

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