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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: July 2011

3 - Egypt



The pre-twentieth-century Egyptian calendar was dotted with religious holidays and local festivals. Edward Lane meticulously detailed the way these events were commemorated, mainly in the mid–nineteenth century. In addition to Islamic festivals, Egyptians celebrated the birthdays of the Prophet and his family (particularly Husayn, Muhammad's grandson), heads of Sufi orders, religious sheikhs, venerated saints and eminent rulers. In 1941 McPherson listed some 126 Islamic and Coptic mawalid celebrated in Egypt. Typically, the public space around the shrine and beyond was decorated for these occasions. The event would include religious ceremonies and rituals, as well as “secular” activities, such as sports and popular processions (usually of Sufi orders). The mawlid was a meeting point of people practicing religious rites, engaging in commercial transactions and having fun. According to Michael Winter, the mawalid constituted a central phenomenon in nineteenth-century Egyptian cultural life. Though essentially folklorist events, they were patronized and financed by the rulers, who occasionally participated in order to augment their own popularity and authority. In addition, Egyptians celebrated the rise of the Nile, on the night of June 17; and Shamm al-Nissim (the Smelling of the Zephyr) at the beginning of spring according to the Coptic calendar.

In the early nineteenth century, the Egyptian province – still officially part of the Ottoman Empire – began to develop its own distinctive symbolism. We know very little about the celebrations surrounding the nomination of Muhammad ‘Ali as governor on 13 May 1805.

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