Endangered Egyptian Traditions Due to Inflation


Rural Egypt is experiencing a decline in centuries-old traditions due to the ongoing economic crisis. The country’s inflation rate stood at 33.9% in March, and the poverty rate was already at 30% before the crisis. As a result, Egyptians are having to abandon once-cherished rituals of celebration and mourning. In the Nile Delta, grooms used to throw elaborate bachelor parties before their weddings, erecting large traditional tents, hiring bands, and butchering cattle to feed guests from far and wide. However, the price of meat has risen beyond the reach of most families, so hardly anyone does it anymore.

In the Nubian south, soaring costs mean that weddings and funerals are no longer what they once were. Families need the money they once spent on these events just to keep households running. In a year, the Egyptian pound has lost nearly half of its value, pushing consumer prices to more than double in the import-dependent country. Weddings in Nubian villages are no longer three-day, nine-meal affairs to which the entire town is invited. Now, the hosts only have to offer a light dinner instead of the old festivities, which used to last up to a week for the richest families.

With everyone keeping an iron grip on their purse strings, brides have also grown less discerning when it comes to wedding rings. Rings had to be a certain weight of gold before, but they have now grown finer and lighter. With newlyweds unable to keep up with skyrocketing gold prices, the highest Muslim authority in Egypt said in March that there was no religious objection to swapping gold for cheaper alternatives, namely silver.

In the tightly-knit agricultural villages of Upper Egypt, funerals are a communal affair. With each death, families rush to bring convoys of food trays to the deceased’s relatives, who quickly run out of storage space and call on neighbours and guests to help rid them of the feasts. However, it’s now agreed that only the immediate family will cook for the bereaved. Some families are also suggesting that they limit themselves to just the funeral and forgo the wake, which at the bare minimum means serving drinks to guests offering condolences.

No commodity has been left undisturbed by price hikes, including coffee and flour. Egyptian baladi bread is a staple on every table in every village, town, and megacity. In Upper Egypt, it was a source of pride for families always to make their own. However, with the cost of grain rising 70% in a year, everyone is lining up outside bakeries run by the government. At least they can get subsidised bread there, even if it tastes nothing like what they would make at home.

The economic crisis has hit rural Egypt hard, and centuries-old traditions are being squeezed out. Multiday weddings, the bereaved feeding the poor, and households taking pride in having the best homemade bread are all becoming things of the past. The situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon, and many Egyptians are struggling to make ends meet.