Heather in Cairo

Heather is a senior majoring in history and medieval studies in Dedman College, with a minor in art history in Meadows School of the Arts, and a recipient of the Gilman International Scholarship to Egypt. In Fall 2009, she will continue her studies in Arabic and Egyptology in her second semester at the American University in Cairo. Learn more about the SMU-in-Cairo program.

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Differences between Israel and Egypt

Pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Day 2)

My second day in Jerusalem consisted of a three-hour tour around the entire old city. This tour started at the Jaffa Gate. I highly recommend taking this tour. It is free, and it helps one get acquainted with the old city.

It is also noteworthy that there is a tourist office at the Jaffa Gate as well. The tour around the old city starts right in front of the tourist office. The journey took me to every major holy site within the city. I also journeyed along the Via Del La Rosa, which is the path that Christ took in his last hours.

The old city is in a constant hustle and bustle, even during holidays such as the Eid. Although many shops run by Muslims were closed, due to the Eid holiday, the city remained vibrant. As my group traced Christ’s last steps, we saw many Christian groups carrying the cross as Christ did, stopping at every stop Christ made and praying.

Church bells rang, and the call to prayer echoed throughout the city. Old Jerusalem is definitely a city enriched in religion; however, people still go about their daily business. I thought it was interesting that even though Jerusalem is a city devoted to religion and tradition, it remains very open as well.

Unlike Cairo, people continue to live the lifestyle that suits them. Clothing is not an issue, except if one wishes to visit a specific holy site. Alcohol is sold everywhere. I believe the term “convivencia” does apply to the city of Jerusalem.

After the tour, my friends and I journeyed to the Mount of Olives, where we visited the Garden of Gethsemane and the Jewish cemetery. My favorite part, however, was the amazing panoramic view of the Haram el Sharif.

Different countries, different lifestyles

Jerusalem is a dynamic city encompassing religion and secularism. Within the old walls of Jerusalem itself, liquor, beer and wine are consumed. People wine and dine within the same walls where others attend church, mosque and temple.

People respect holy spaces and let these areas function as they have for centuries. However, cafes, bars and restaurants function in their own places within the walls.

Just outside the Jaffa entrance is a vast complex of high-end retail, patio style restaurants, bars, clubs and the like. Jaffa Street is fantastic at night. I sat outside with my girlfriends one night and enjoyed being in an environment with other young people enjoying the company of friends. Music, lights and smoke whirled around in the cool air as everyone enjoyed their night. I realized how different Israel was from Egypt, in a sense of secular freedoms.

My friends and I discussed the differences between Israel and Egypt. Although I know Egypt is far more open than Saudi Arabia, it is very strict compared to Israel. The moment I crossed the Egyptian Israeli border, I noticed a difference in the way women dress. In Egypt a female should dress modestly (no skirts or dresses above the knee, no sleeveless shirts, etc.), and in Israel a female can wear anything she wishes.

Although alcohol is consumed in Egypt, alcohol is not socially accepted. There are very few places to even buy beer, wine or liquor. In Israel, alcohol seemed like a common commodity. In Egypt there are social standards for the way male and female youths are allowed to interact. For example, at the American University in Cairo, public display of affection is forbidden. Kissing in public is taboo and even holding hands is not a social norm.

I should make note that in Egypt every place has its own rules. The way one acts at a lounge in the Four Seasons Hotel is far different than in the streets of Tahrir. Even in my own neighborhood, Zamalek, people act differently than in other districts of Cairo. I feel like most of these taboos and social norms are due to social class.

Note: As stated previously, the way one dresses and acts in Egypt is very dependent on the area one is in.

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