Visitors to Egypt are often surprised by the variety of types to be encountered in the course of the shortest stroll through Cairo streets. Already on landing at Alexandria or Port Said he will have observed the blue-clad porters at the docks, the uniformed port officials and, perhaps, the turbaned fishermen setting out to sea in their primitive sailing boats. On the way to the station he will have noticed the white-clad policeman directing the traffic and, from the windows of his Pullmann car, he will have seen, hard at work in the fertile fields, the peasant -"fellah" -worker who constitutes the backbone of the Egyptian population.
In the capital the variety of types seems almost bewildering. From any hotel terrace or window the visitor is likely to see, in the space of a few short minutes, such different types as the Beduin with his white headdress and the knotted cord which keeps it in place; the fashionable lady in the latest Paris creation; the woman of the people wearing with regal carriage her unassuming black wrap and heavy veil; the artisan in tarboush or turban, gown or European clothes; the dignified and stately alim (Moslem preacher or professor) in flowing robes and snow-white turban; and of course, the well-dressed, highly civilised representatives of the modern country which Ancient Egypt has become. Yet, on closer acquaintance, it will be found that these types apparently so diverse, offer as many points of resemblance as of contrast. One language and, to a great extent, one religion are common to all. On even closer acquaintance the resemblances are accentuated while dissemblances diminish. Salient characteristics of every Egyptian are the love of the soil from which he springs, his innate sense of courtesy and hospitality, his love of little children and his veneration for old age. These are strong bonds and they intensify the feeling of brotherhood which, if not peculiar to Egypt, is certainly an outstanding part of her life.W
And yet -it is one of his striking characteristics -.the fellah is, in the main, a happy and contented man. He has his periodical relaxation, his periodical rejoicings. They coincide with the chief festivals of the Mohammedan calendar when all work is suspended, when sheep are killed and eaten, when cakes are baked and exchanged between neighbours. At weddings and other domestic celebrations he will spend with a lavish hand the money which at other times he saves so parsimoniously. On ordinary days the fellah's recreation is of the simplest. Storytellers are still in request at the modest coffee-houses which, in most villages, are the only "places of amusement", There, over a cup of coffee or milkless tea, villagers meet and discuss the events of the day, the state of the crops, the price of cotton and -a perennial topic in Egypt irrigation or drainage. But his traditional love would avail him little if the fellah's fund of farming knowledge were not accompanied by the unremitting toil of his hands. True, he has a fertile soil; but a very small plot of that rich earth must be made to yield sustenance for a whole family. True, he has a climate which seldom falls short of perfect: but his freedom from anxiety on that score and his independence of rainfall make of watering and drainage a constant source of preoccupation and labour.
He rises at dawn and works until sunset. His food is of the most frugal
nature and offers little variety beyond bread, lentils, beans and onions,
His clothing is of the simplest: a blue cotton gown and a brown felt skull-cap.
From early childhood when he is set to tend the cattle or help in the fields,
the fellah's life is one of ever-recurring hard work, Of comfort in his
home he has little according to western standards. A picturesque figure
of Egyptian life is the Bedouin of the desert. It
may as well be admitted at once that the romantic "Son of the Desert" as
depicted on film screens and in many popular novels is a figure which is
more imaginative than real. Rather less glamour and considerably more common
sense are more in keeping with any picture of the Bedouin as he really
is. Nevertheless an element of romance does underlie the lives of the tribes
who live on the fringes of the desert. Their customs and traditions, many
of which date back to the days when their forefathers led a nomad life
in the deserts of Arabia, are a most fascinating subject of observation
and study. To quote but two instances: Bedouin women are not perhaps more
favourable to warfare and fighting than are their sisters of the towns;
yet when, as sometimes happens, a quarrel arises, between Bedouin villagers
the women folk of both parties come out to watch the fray. This is because,
in olden days man was thought to fight better when under the critical eye
of his mother, sister or bride. Again, handed down from the days when marriage
by capture was the rule, it is still 'part of Bedouin wedding festivities
to place a padlock on the gateway of the bride's home. When the families
concerned are wealthy the padlock is often made of solid gold.
The stately garb of the Beduin distinguishes him at once from his fellow
Egyptians. Rarely will he consent to doff his striking head-dress; even
more rarely will he, abandon his hereditary privilege of carrying arms.
He is very much an individualist and, in his lonely settlement, he expects
and prefers to look after himself rather than to enjoy protection.
We now come to the Artisans and industrial workers of Egypt. The former
has always existed and many examples of his craft and skill may be seen
in the Museums of the world. The latter is an element which has grown up
during the 20th Century. So long as the entire Egyptian cotton crop was
exported the cotton crop was a matter of agricultural interest. Now, however,
Egypt spins and weaves a great deal of her own requirements in cotton goods.
This and other enterprises of an industrial nature have created a category
of factory workers. Their comparatively low numbers and their short span
of existence have not so far created an industrial question, but a corporate
spirit is already making itself felt and, in time, the Egyptian factory
worker will doubtless become a powerful factor in the politics and economy
of the country. At the present, however, he and the artisan lead very hard-working
and frugal lives. Their hours of work are long, their leisure scanty and
their earnings small. But here again, as was mentioned in regard to the
Fellahin, they have the assets of a kindly climate, traditions of simple
living and above all, a happy and contented nature. One has but to listen
to the singing which accompanies every kind of "team work" to realise that
labour to the Egyptian workman is more than a means of livelihood; it is
a means of expression and an outlet for his sense of rhythm and co-ordination.
There are in Egypt diversities of creed, of origin, of education and of wealth. But there is only one Egypt, and, in the broad sense, one people in Egypt: the Egyptian people