One thing that struck her, and me from her description, was the way that although the peasantry were nominally Muslim and Coptic the reality was those belief systems were little more than a thin veneer over far older beliefs. Although the top layer of belief was from the Koran or the Bible, scratch that and these people lived in a world of the Evil Eye and desert spirits, Ifrit and magic and sorcerors. Every village had a magician who could, for a price, cast spells using the Koran as his or her spellbook to help you find love, reveal lies or find buried treasure.
For all that the books of both Christianity and Islam forbade it, their entire lives revolved around magic and the belief in it one way or another.
As I read, something struck me. The magic has gone away. The march of rationalism has killed genies and spells and the hope of magic treasure and all it has left behind is the words of the book which once controlled them. I got to wondering whether when you take the magic away, all you leave is fundamentalism and if that's where it has come from.