family type in egypt

todd says the egyptian family type is his ‘endogamous community family’ type (by endogamous he means that the children of brothers marry):

– cohabitation of married sons with their parents
– equality between brothers established by inheritance rules
– frequent marriage between the children of brothers
– arab world, turkey, iran, afghanistan, pakistan, azerbaijan, turkmenistan, uzbekistan, tadzhikistan
– islam

from what i’ve read so far, that seems more-or-less right. one important point, though: the extended family seems to be more important the further south you go in egypt. the extended family is still important today in lower egypt, in and around cairo and the delta, but it’s really important in upper egypt to the point where one should really be talking in terms of clans and/or tribes — tribes especially with the nubians in the south and the bedouins in peripheral areas.

there’s a reason for this difference which i’ll talk more about in a follow up post, but you can already guess what it is: inbreeding/endogamous mating happens at much greater frequencies in southern egypt and in the frontier governorates than in the delta region. simple.

there are a couple of other exceptions to todd’s classification of the egyptian family type — the actual structures on the ground are not a perfect fit with todd’s description — for instance which members of the extended family tend to live in egyptian households seems to be more flexible than todd’s definition — but, still, i think he’s generally right. these are, indeed, endogamous community families.

here are some interesting excerpts from a couple of sources related to the importance of the extended family in egypt:

African Families at the Turn of the 21st Century (2006), pgs. 57-58:

“In urban and rural areas the importance of family for women and men remains central to their lives….

For most Egyptians some version of the extended family still plays a crucial role in their day-to-day existence. Contrary to modernization theory with respect to family development, extended families have not lost their appeal or importance. Most people attempt to live near their parents, siblings, cousins, or grandparents, should they still be alive, and maintain an active relationship with many of their relatives. It is important to note that extended family households which are often found in Egypt do not follow the traditional patterns in which geneaologically related persons of two generations live together or in which married siblings form one household. Rather, extended families are based on the incorporation of unmarried relatives into a family. Widows, divorcees (especially those with no children), and bachelors do not live separately and would be stigmatized should they make this choice. Further, unmarried sons or daughters live with their parents until marriage, irrespective of age. After divorce or the death of a spouse, both men and women, especially if they do not have children, are expected to return to their parents if they are still alive; otherwise they are supposed to live with a brother, sister, or other relatives. Another popular extended family pattern is the one in which a child is ‘borrowed’ by a relative with no children of his or her own. Among lower-class people one tends to find this phenomenon more often among grandparents who need the assistance of a child for housework. Among more well-to-do families, an uncle or aunt will offer to take care of a sibling’s children for an extended time period, primarily for sentimental reasons or because the biological parents already have other pressing obligations such as an extended leave abroad.

“Another common middle- and lower-class family pattern found in Egypt is the incorporation of nonrelatives, such as apprentices and work assistants, into a particular household. Such individuals have a special position, because even though not all of them sleep in the house of their employer, their food and laundry is part of the household. Upper-middle- and upper-class families are characterized by the presence of domestic servants who may or may not live in the household. Often domestic live-in servants will come from the family’s natal village, even if the family has not lived there for several generations.

that last group of people, the live-in servants from the family’s natal village, might often be distant relatives to the family for whom they work.
_____

“Positivity in the Middle East: Developing Hope in Egyptian Organizational Leaders”
Advances in Global Leadership, Volume 4 (2006), pg. 281:

“Cultural collectivism dominates the Egyptian society, with extended families and family ties being very important. Children normally live with their parents until they get married, and sometimes even share their parents’ place after they get married due to their tight economic resources and the scarcity of affordable housing. Children are expected to support their parents at old age. However, this collectivism does not necessarily translate into patriotism. People may be loyal to their immediate families, to their extended families, to their neighbors, and to their friends and acquaintances, but not necessarily to their political leaders and current situation…. Sabotaging public transportation seats, writing on building walls, littering, breaking traffic lights, and other destructive behaviors are commonplace by children and adults alike. This behavior usually extends to the workplace, where personal abuse of business resources takes place, and in most cases even accepted as the norm.”
_____

this final excerpt describes the situation in upper or southern egypt, i.e. where there is greater inbreeding:

Development and Social Change in Rural Egypt (1986), pgs. 150-51:

“The importance that poor peasants attach to the brokerage services by a single wealthy patron can be seen in the continuing importance of the extended family unit in rural Egypt. In the village of El-Diblah [pseudonymous village representative of upper egypt], as well as other Egyptian communities, politics and much of life itself are organized on the basis of large, extended families numbering 500 members or more. These extended families are broad patrilineal structures, which may or may not be able to trace themselves back to a single historical founder. While these extended families do not represent monolithic social structures, most fellahin are animated by a real feeling of belonging to a particular extended family unit. When they need a loan or help with outside government officials, poor peasants will often turn to the leader or a prominent person within their extended family. In the village of El-Diblah three of the four leading extended families are headed by rich peasants. In the eyes of most fellahin, this is exactly as it should be. In the countryside wealth acquired by virtually any means provides a good indication of an individual’s ability to deal with (or against) the ouside world.

“‘Zaghlul,’ for example, is the rich peasant head of one of the leading extended families in El-Diblah. A short, wiry 55-year-old fellah, whose dress and mannerisms are almost indistinguishable from those of other peasants in the village, Zaghlul now owns about 25 feddans of land. Much of this land is planted in sugar cane, a crop that he uses to supply his own cane press that produces black molasses for local sale. As the owner of 25 feddans of land, and the proprietor of one of the few ‘manufacturing’ enterprises in the village, Zaghlul is able to dispense a wide number of agricultural and non-agricultrual work opportunities to favored members of his extended family. Many of the poorer members of his extended family live in a mud-brick settlement surrounding Zaghlul’s modern two-story, red-brick house. In the evenings a steady stream of these poor people come to Zaghlul’s house, seeking brokerage and intercessionary services (for example, help in securing agricultural inputs and medical services from the government)….

previously: “l’explication de l’idéologie” and corporations and collectivities

update: see also mating patterns in egypt and corporations and collectivities

(note: comments do not require an email. three fellahs.)

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more on syrian marriage and family types

here are some excerpts from Syria A Country Study published in 2004 by the federal research division, but apparently first(?) published in 1987. so some, or perhaps all, of this info is probably dated; but even if it only tells us about syrian marriages and family types in the 1980s, syrians born in the 1980s would be in their 30s now, so marriage patterns and family types from the 1980s would probably still have an impact on syrian society today, even if marriage patterns and family types have changed in the last few decades (who knows ’cause syria is such a closed book).

(btw, this evening i was working on some world values survey data related to germany and poland and civic attitudes, but i didn’t get through it all, so a post on that will have to wait until tomorrow!)

now, from Syria A Country Study [pgs. 99-103]:

Syrian life centers on the extended family. The individual’s loyalty to his family is nearly absolute and usually overrides all other obligations. Except in the more sophisticated urban circles, the individual’s social standing depends on his family background. Although status is changing within the emerging middle class, ascribed rather than achieved status still regulates the average Syrian’s life. His honor and dignity are tied to the good repute of his kin group and, especially, to that of its women….

Because of the cohesiveness of religious and ethnic groups, they universally encourage endogamy, or the marriage of members within the group. Lineages, or groups of families tracing descent to a common ancestor, also strive for endogamy, although this is in fact less common, despite its theoretical desirability. Viewed as a practical bond between families, marriage often has political and economic overtones even among the poor.

“Descent is traced through men, or patrilineally, in all groups. In addition, the individual household is based on blood ties between men. Syrians ideally and sentimentally prefer the three-generation household consisting of a senior couple; their married sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren; and their unmarried sons, daughters, and other miscellaneous patrilineal relatives. The latter might include a widowed mother or widowed or divorced sister of the household head or a widow of his brother along with her children. At the death of the household head, adult sons establish their own homes, each to repeat the pattern.

This ideal is realized in no more than a quarter of the households. Little reliable information is available about the size of households, but authorities believe that they average between five and seven persons and that city households are slightly smaller than rural; among Christians the difference between urban and rural household size is more marked than among Muslims. The relatively large size of the typical household probably results from a large number of children and the rarity of single adults living alone; children live at home until marriage, and the widowed tend to live with their children or other relatives.

“Syrians highly value family solidarity and, consequently, obedience of children to the wishes of their parents.

Being a good family member includes automatic loyalty to kinsmen as well. Syrians employed in modern bureaucratic positions, such as government officials, therefore find impersonal impartiality difficult because its conflicts with the deeply held value of family solidarity.

Syrians have no similar ingrained feelings of loyalty toward a job, an employer, a coworker, or even a friend.

“There is widespread conviction that the only reliable people are one’s kinsmen. An officeholder tends to select his kinsmen as fellow workers or subordinates because he feels a sense of responsibility for them and trusts them. Commercial establishments are largely family operations staffed by the offspring and relatives of the owner. Cooperation among business firms may be determined by the presence or absence of kinship ties between the heads of firms. When two young men become very close friends, they often enhance their relationship by accepting one another as ‘brothers,’ thus placing each in a position of special responsibility toward the other. There is no real basis for a close relationship except ties of kinship.

Ideally one should marry within one’s lineage. The son or daughter of one’s father brother, i.e., one’s first cousin, is considered the most appropriate mate. Particularly among the beduin, such marriages occur frequently. In some communities, the male cousin has a presumptive right to marry his female patrilineal first cousin and may be paid by another suitor to release her from this obligation. In towns, marriage between cousins is common among both the wealthiest and the poorest groups. In large metropolitan centers, however, the custom is breaking down, especially among the middle class. Marriage between first cousins is common among Sunnis, including Kurds and Turkomans, although it is forbidden among Circassians. Christians forbid marriage between first cousins. Nevertheless, those groups that forbid marriage of cousins still value family endogamy and encourage the marriage of more distant relatives.

“Traditionally, in both Muslim and Christian marriages, the groom or his family must pay a bride price or mahr to the bride or her family. The bride price can be extremely high; it is not unusual for a middle class family to demand of the groom the equivalent of several years salary as the price of marriage to their daughter.

“However, this payment is often specified in prenuptial contracts to be payable only in the event of a divorce or separation. Therefore, the bride price serves as an alimony fund. The wealthy marry within their families not only to preserve the presumed purity of their bloodlines but to keep the bride price within the family, whereas the poor do so to avoid bride-price payments….

“Endogamous marriage and high bride prices serve as deterrents to divorce, counterbalancing the relative ease of divorce authorized in Islamic law and tradition. According to sharia, a man may summarily divorce his wife simply by pronouncing the talaka, or repudiation, three times, although it is far more difficult for a wife to divorce her husband. Currently in Syria, a sharia court adjudicates divorce. Incompatibility is cited most often as justification.

“Seven percent of marriages end in divorce, according to Syrian statistics from 1984. The rate varied from a high of 16 percent in urban Damascus to a low of 2 percent in rural Al Hasakah.

“If a woman marries within her own lineage, she has the security of living among her people, and the demands upon her loyalty are simple and direct. If she marries into a different lineage, she is among comparative strangers and may also be torn between loyalty to her husband’s family and lineage and loyalty to her paternal kinsmen, particularly if trouble should develop between the two. As a wife, she is expected to support her husband and his family, but as a daughter — still dependent on the moral support of her father and brothers — she may feel compelled to advocate their interest. Her father’s household always remains open to her and, in case of a dispute with her husband, she may return to her father’s house.

“Except in the small, urban, Westernized segment of society, the spheres of men and women tend to be strictly separated, and little friendship or companionship exists between the sexes. People seek friendship, amusement, and entertainment with their own sex, and contact between the two sexes takes place primarily within the home.

“Women are viewed as weaker than men in mind, body, and spirit and therefore in need of male protection, particularly protection from nonrelated men. The honor of men depends largely on that of their women, and especially on that of their sisters; consequently, the conduct of women is expected to be circumspect, modest, and decorous, with their virtue above reproach. Veiling is rarely practiced in villages or tribes, but in towns and cities keeping one’s women secluded and veiled was traditionally considered a sign of elevated status. In the mid-1980s, the practice of wearing the veil was quite rare among young women in cities; however, the wearing of the hijab (a scarf covering the hair) was much more common. Wearing the hijab was sometimes more a symbol of Islamic affiliation than a token of modesty, and the garment underwent a revival in the 1980s as a subtle protest against the secular Baath regime. For this reason, the government discouraged the wearing of such Islamic apparel.

“The traditional code invests men as members of family groups with a highly valuable but easily damaged honor (ird). The slightest implication of unavenged impropriety on the part of the women in his family or of male infractions of the code of honesty and hospitality could irreparably destroy the honor of a family. In particular, female virginity before marriage and sexual fidelity afterward are essential to the maintenance of honor. In the case of a discovered transgression, the men of a family were traditionally bound to kill the offending woman, although in modern times she is more likely to be banished to a town or city where she is not known.

“There is no evidence that urbanization per se has lessened the importance of the concept of honor to the Syrian. The fact that town life is still concentrated in the face-to-face context of the quarter ensures the survival of the traditional notion of honor as personal repute in the community. Some authorities have suggested, however, that although urbanization in itself does not threaten the concept, increased modern secular education will probably do so.

“In common with most traditional societies, traditional Arab society tended — and to an unknown extent continues — to put a different and higher value on sons than on daughters. The birth of a boy is an occasion for great celebration, whereas that of a girl is not necessarily so observed. Failure to produce sons may be used as grounds for divorcing a wife or taking a second. Barren women, therefore, are often desperately eager to bear sons and frequently patronize quack healers and medicine men and women.”

previously: syria and syrian tribes

(note: comments do not require an email. the syrian colony, washington street, nyc, 1895.)