Almeh (Egyptian Arabic: عالمة ʕálma IPA: [ˈʕælmæ]; the peasant pronunciation is ʕálme or ʕālme, plural عوالم ʕawālim [ʕæˈwæːlem, -lɪm], from Arabic: ʻālima, from علم "to know, be learned") was the name of a class of courtesans or female entertainers in Arab Egypt, women educated to sing and recite classical poetry and to discourse wittily, connected by musician Alain Weber (1997) to the qayna slave singers of pre-Islamic Arabia. They were educated girls of good social standing, trained in dancing, singing and poetry, present at festivals and entertainments, and hired as mourners at funerals.
In Islamic tradition, the awalim were linked to Aisha, wife of the prophet Muhammad, and to Aisha bint Talhah, who conversed with learned men at the court of Damascus, and who was nicknamed "the flower of literature" because the poetry she authored.
In the 19th century, almeh came to be used as a synonym of ghawazi, the erotic dancers of Dom ethnicity whose performances were banned in 1834 by Muhammad Ali of Egypt. As a result of the ban, the ghawazi dancers were forced to pretend that they were in fact awalim. Transliterated into French as almée, the term came to be synonymous with "belly dancer" in European Orientalism of the 19th century.