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What Do the Women Do?

April 24, 1990|KIM MURPHY

CAIRO — If the coffee shop is the sole dominion of the male in Egypt, it is not because women are confined to home--at least, not always.

While her husband sips and smokes at the corner cafe, the modern Egyptian professional woman is likely to be lunching with her girlfriends at a five-star hotel or meeting her sister downtown for a pastry and a cup of tea.

After hours, the more westernized Egyptian woman can be spotted at nightclubs and discotheques all over the city, dancing to Madonna and Prince in skirts hiked up to there. But only in the company of her husband or boyfriend.

Traditional Egyptians still frown on Muslim women prancing around town unescorted, and the typical social setting for most women remains the home, sharing coffee and gossip with friends or relatives, or calling, with their husbands and children, on family for Friday afternoon lunch.

Even in cosmopolitan Cairo, women from the most traditional families never emerge from the house unveiled and are seldom seen in the family reception room when their husbands are dining with male friends.

Only during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan can women be seen venturing across the hallowed threshold of a coffee shop--and then, for the most part, only safely in the company of a husband or brother.

But Egypt, with its reputation as the sin center of the Middle East, is if anything less restrictive than most other Arab countries, where segregation of the sexes, at least in public and most especially in the coffee shop, is most often the rule.

Tunisian and Algerian coffee shops are constantly bubbling over with scores of rowdy young men, and in Saudi Arabia, women seldom venture into restaurants with men--even their husbands--let alone the sacred dens where Saudis drink their coffee.

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