Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gulf Arabs in Egypt

We were just sitting chatting with Mohammed the barber when I remembered that I saw him sitting with a Yemeni man the other day is new to the neighborhood. Mohammed told me that the man was here on vacation and was renting an apartment for a few weeks because it is cheaper than a room in a hotel.

Gulf Arabs come to vacation in Egypt quite often, and I have yet to hear an explanation of this phenomenon other than the one I am about to share. Mohammed told me that Gulf Arabs, especially the more convervative Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, come to Egypt to "go out with women." This means everything from just speaking to women to sleeping with them. In these countries, Mohammed explained, the women are all covered, most often wearing niqab. I wanted to question this stereoptype as I hear it often and I think it's generally useful to do so, so I asked Mohammed if he was sure that this was really the reason people from the Gulf come to Egypt. He said, "well yesterday when I was speaking with him he asked me the best place to fine women in Cairo, so yes, I am sure."

He added that to Gulf Arabs, Egypt is known as "أمريكا العرب." "The America of the Arabs."


Rob said...

Finding women might be a factor for some but this is probably a very small amount. What your barber told you is probably fueled by ant-Saudi sentiment and stereotype more than actual fact.

Gulf Arabs come to Egypt for several reasons:

1) The Financial Advantage: For them life in Cairo is cheap. And not all Saudis are filthy rich that they could go and spend several weeks in Europe or even Lebanon. Therefore, Egypt is very appealing to many.

2) Weather. Many Europeans or Americans might find Egypt unbearably hot in the summer. Compare that to Saudi Arabia though and its actually comparatively cooler.

3) Culture. Egypt is an Arab and Muslim country. Saudis can go to Egypt and feel right at home culturally to an extent that they wouldnt in say Lebanon and of course any non-Muslim country.

4) Sex? Its true that Egypt is more culturally open then Saudi Arabia and many dont follow the same strict moral code they might follow at home. What does that mean? For some it might mean picking up whores, but I doubt this number is any signifigant portion of the total number of Saudis who come to Egypt.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that I dont find your barber's explanation very convincing.

Ibn Yaaqub said...

Hey Rob,

I think you are right and the barber who worked there before and who said the same thing actually admitted to me that he just doesn't like Khaligees, period. But I think this anti-Saudi sentiment is interesting.

It seems to me that a lot of Egyptians resent people coming to here from the Gulf for largely economic reasons. There is a story in the novel Taxi by Khaled Khamisi about a Gulfi who pays 200 pounds for what should have been a 50 pound ride, and what was explained to me by my professor is that this is common for people coming from the Gulf to throw their money around in Egypt. Of course, she may have a bias as well, but I am sure we can all imagine why Egyptians might find this a bit offensive or obnoxious to say the least. In addition, when looking for apartments this summer, a number of simsars told me that prices during that time are much higher because “the Arabs (meaning people from the Gulf) will come and pay anything.” Again, Egyptians themselves might not be the most neutral sources, but the fact is that most of the people who come here from Gulf are much wealthier than the average Egyptian.

But I just cannot get away from this issue of sexuality in Egypt. I feel like I am turning into an Orientalist, but everywhere I turn, from the newspapers to the barber to my professors to my Egyptian friends, everyone is constantly talking about something to do with sex. Of course I haven’t done the proper research, but I really wouldn’t be surprised based on how the situation in places such as Saudi and Yemen has been described to me if there weren’t at least some truth to this purported phenomenon. Of course I consider Egypt to be a conservative society, but for example, a number of my friends and colleagues have been solicited by Egyptians on the street for sex. So while it’s cheaper here, cooler, and still an Arab/Islamic setting, I imagine it’s a lot easier to get one’s rocks off in Cairo than it is in Riyad.