About 95% of Egypt is Muslim. The Islamic religion plays into many aspects of daily life, personally and on a larger level. It is believed that Mohammad is the prophet and brought the final religious book, the Koran. Religious Muslims pray five times a day. The daily prayer times are listed in the newspapers, and in some locations, you will hear prayers blasting over loud speakers all over the city at these times. Friday is the holy day of the week in Islam, and everything is closed. Some stores will also close Thursday, so the concept of the weekend is practiced Thursday and Friday in Egypt.
Ramadan is a holy month in Islam. People can only work six hours a day, and are required to fast; they refrain from eating, drinking, smoking or chewing gum. You do not have to participate if you are an expat or not Muslim, but it is very rude to indulge in such activities in public. The breaking of fast occurs at sunset, and there are often huge, festive activities to celebrate.
The family plays the most important role in Egyptian social life, and nepotism is common. The individual is considered after the family, tribe or greater community.
Honor, respect and esteem are considered very important in social relationships. Anyone’s honor is intertwined with their entire extended family. It is considered honorable in Egypt to be very hospitable to guests. Egyptians also stress that men should back their words, and dress well to preserve honor of themselves and their families.
In terms of greeting, Egyptians often only shake hands of members of the same sex. It is best to follow the gesture you are first greeted with. Members of the same sex that know each other well kiss each other’s cheeks upon greeting.
If you are invited to someone’s house, you should bring nice chocolates, sweets or pastries. Flowers are reserved for weddings. When you enter their house, remove your shoes first. It is a good idea to compliment the house to the host. When you are eating at someone’s home, make sure you only eat with your right hand, and do not use salt, as that is considered rude and disrespectful to their cooking. Dress well and conservatively.
Egyptians prefer to do business with people they know. It is more important who you know than what you know. You will probably be offered coffee or tea, and you should accept it. Dress conservatively. Egyptians stress eye contact as a marker of honesty and therefore honor, so don’t find it weird if someone is looking at you for a prolonged period. If you have written materials or business cards, you should have it available in Egyptian Arabic. Expect a good deal of haggling during negotiations, as it is common in the culture.