Tearsheet – The Ahwas of Cairo

 

Here is a recent tearsheet from the wonderful Effilee Magazine for whom I wrote and photographed a really unusual piece about the Ahwas (coffeehouses) of Cairo. I wanted to write about the situation in Egypt without watching people fighting and using the prism of the Ahwas allowed me to examine protest and the way that the Revolution has evolved through them. The piece is an historical look at the heritage of the coffee houses and their resurgence after years of political repression. Under Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, dissent and free thought were controlled. Networks of informers and secret policemen used cafes as an access point to the Arab Street. Novelists and poets like Naguib Mafouz still patronised them but had to write and speak in metaphor. Despite this coffeehouses had and continue to hold a significant rôle in Arab (and specifically) Egyptian literature and culture.
The Revolution of 2011 was sparked at least in part by the killing of a young man by the security forces outside an Ahwa that was used as an internet cafe. The cafes have become political again and, in this work, I’ve tried to explore the downtown splendour of the Art Nouveau, Cafe Riche that is home to a new generation of political activists, the street cafes of the Bourse (Cairo’s Left Bank during the Revolution) as well as a survey of Ahwas less well known – simple backstreet cafes and those of the Zaballeen (the Christian minority). Interviews include (amongst others) political commentator and Booker Prize nominated novelist Ahdaf Soueif, Arab Booker nominee (also head of Al-Dar publishing house) and flâneur Makkawi Said and Max Rodenbeck, the Economist’s correspondent and author of the encyclopaedic, ‘Cairo, the City Victorious’. Currently, a new Egyptian soap opera called Coffee Shop is attracting very negative attention from Egypt’s secularists about the way women are (or actually not) portrayed within the programme. The debate goes to the heart of what society was being created under the Morsi government.

Here’s the tearsheet:

 

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