Which belonged to a different era, that is, a few decades ago when Egypt “was very liberal, very tolerant. You had the bars, you had the synagogues, you had the churches, you had the mosques. Everyone was absolutely allowed to practice religion, to go and drink or whatever.”
“Religion, decrepitude threaten downtown Cairo bars,” by Paul Schemm and Sebastian Abbot for the Associated Press, December 13:
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) “” Armed with a bottle of Egyptian brandy and a bowl of steaming chickpeas, Hatem Fouad keeps watch each night over a historic slice of Cairo that is in danger of dying: the bars that once flourished amid the sweeping boulevards and graceful roundabouts of the city’s European-style downtown.
The former police officer is part of a cadre of older Egyptian men who frequent drinking holes and belly-dancing cabarets chronicled by Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz in the 1940s and popular with Cairo’s artists and intellectuals until the late 1970s.
Many of these establishments have fallen into disrepair and disrepute as Egyptians grow more observant of Islam with its prohibition on alcohol, and the country’s elite migrates away from the traffic-choked streets of the now crumbling downtown.
“They were part of an Egypt that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Alaa el-Aswani, who immortalized the remnants of the downtown bar scene in his best-selling 2002 novel “The Yacoubian Building.” He was talking about the heyday of the bar and nightclub era “” when anyone from King Farouk, Egypt’s last monarch, to the British playwright-composer Noel Coward, might show up in a Cairo club.
“This Egypt was very liberal, very tolerant,” he said. “You had the bars, you had the synagogues, you had the churches, you had the mosques. Everyone was absolutely allowed to practice religion, to go and drink or whatever.”
Cairo at the time was filled not just with Egyptians, but with Greeks, Italians and other Europeans who frequented the bars and restaurants sprinkled among the downtown’s ornate belle epoque buildings. Mahfouz’s novels describe the wealthy patronizing these establishments and the denizens of Cairo’s medieval back alleys sometimes venturing into the brightly lighted downtown for a drink.
The 1952 ouster of Farouk and the nationalization of businesses chased away many of the Europeans. Then, in the 1980s, millions of Egyptians returned from working in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia with both money and the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islam.[…]