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Baladi Women of Cairo: Playing with an Egg and a Stone

Evelyn A. Early
ISBN: 978-1-55587-268-7
1993/217 pages/LC: 92-10682
Includes photos.

"A remarkable story which tells of sociocultural interaction between the members of an ambiguous, complex, multidimensional urban community of Cairo.... A vibrant narration and a detailed account of women's life stories.... In a spontaneous, outspoken discourse, together with a vivid observation, the protagonists provide the reader with rich material on various domains of the social sciences.... A fascinating and detailed monograph of an old Cairene quarter in which the portraits of many actresses take us on a long guided tour of discovery."—International Journal of Middle East Studies

"A sensitive and sympathetic account of the daily life of a group of poor, illiterate women who belong to what is commonly referred to as 'the masses of Muslim urban poor of Egypt'."—MESA Bulletin

"[An] extremely perceptive study....Her scope is impressive, and she moves with ease and authority from issues of identity and community to popular religion, life-cycle ritual, daily life, and health and "well-being." Early knows her subjects intimately....She is not the first to treat baladi women, but she is possibly the most astute.... There is much to learn and ponder here." —Digest of Middle East Studies


Traditional, urban Egyptian women—baladi women—extol themselves with the proverb, "A baladi woman can play with an egg and a stone without breaking the egg." Evelyn Early illustrates this and other expressions of baladi women's self-identity by observing and recording their everyday discourse and how these women—who consider themselves destitute yet savvy—handle such matters as housing, work, marriage, religion, health, and life in general.

Based on more than three years of research in Bulaq Abu 'Ala—a jammed popular quarter north of the fashionable Nile-side hotel district of Cairo—Early's work reveals important cultural themes by minimizing the reflective gaze of the researcher and allowing spontaneous discourse and narrative recountings to catch culture in action.


Evelyn Early is deputy commandant for international affairs at the Air War College. 


  • Spontaneous Performance and Everyday Life.
  • The Industrial Quarter of Bulaq Abu 'Ala: Mameluke Playground Turned Proletarian Forge.
  • To Be Baladi Is to Be Savvy: Playing with an Egg and a Stone Without Breaking the Egg.
  • Popular Baladi Islam: Processions and Vows.
  • Baladi Performance: "Let Me Tell You What Happened."
  • Daily Life and Well-Being.
  • Conclusion.