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5 Things You Didn't Know About Egypt
By Annie Tisdale
Located on the easternmost corner of Northern Africa sits the Arab Republic of Egypt, connecting Africa and Asia via the Sinai Peninsula. Famous for its mysterious pyramids, ancient temples, and elegant sculptures, the people of Egypt have seen their fair share of tyrants, conquerors, and dictators over the centuries. More recently the Islamic nation has endured social upheaval in the push for democracy following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. After millions of protesters and a military coup ejecting President Mohamed Morsi, it seems that Egypt might be on its way to a second revolution.
With Egypt in the headlines, here are five things about Egyptian culture that you might not have known:
1. Egypt built the first subway system in Africa.
The Cairo Metro was the first and only subway system in all of Africa until the recent creation of a subway system in Algeria in 2010. It was built under the reign of former President Mubarak beginning in 1983 and began operating in 1987. Clean, spacious, and with moderately priced tickets, the Cairo Metro is a sign of modern advancements in infrastructure in a crowded city that already has too many cars; over 90% of Egyptians live on just 5% of land, as most of the country is desert. At the moment, only 17 of the metro’s 53 stations are located underground, but that may change in the future as plans for future lines are in the works.
2. It’s considered rude to eat with your left hand.
Many Egyptian foods, like bread and other dishes, can be eaten with just with your hands, no utensils required. It may be common sense to wash your hand before you eat. But, you might not know that it’s disrespectful to eat or pass food with your left hand in Egypt. In Middle Eastern cultures the left hand is considered unclean because it’s used for dirty jobs like wiping yourself after going to the toilet . So next time you're in Egypt, don't reach into communal food bowls with your left hand.
3. Facebook is really popular in Egypt.
Egypt’s Free Internet Initiative has made it possible that all Egyptians have free access to the Internet, which played a big role in the 2011 revolution. Egyptians used social networks like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with each other and organize protests. In honor of the role that the social networking site played, an Egyptian father named his newborn daughter Facebook Jamal Ibrahim.
4. Cleopatra was not Egyptian.
As one of the most famous individuals throughout Egyptian history, Cleopatra VII has been depicted in art, film, and lore; known for her wit and charm. But this Egyptian queen was actually of Macedonia/Greek lineage from the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt from 323 to 30 B.C. Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh and after her death Egypt became a Roman province. So, yeah, not Egyptian.
5. Egyptians invented toothpaste and breath mints.
According to historians, the ancient Egyptians were very concerned with hygiene, which extended to oral hygiene. To get clean, white teeth, the Egyptians would use a powder from a combination of rock salt, mint, dried iris flowers, and pepper. Yum! To combat bad breath, a mixture of frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, and honey rolled into pellets was used. Ancient Egypt was also one of the first societies credited with the use of toothbrushes, which were made out of small twigs.
Egypt is a country with a long and rich culture that has seen many changes dating back thousands of years. But in one form or another Egypt has endured its turbulent past, which makes it especially interesting to see what will happen next.
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