Seems fitting, after posting about all this art and politics business to leave with something from the past. I can’t explain why I love Egypt so much-everyone thinks I’m mad for wanting to move there after having grown up here. Maybe it’s because in this dark, dark time-the realm of possibilities seem limitless. The West is bombarded with awful imagery and idea about the region-I wish to devote my life to upending that. To pick up where we left off in Egypt-a place that was as antiquated as it was glamorous. This is one of my favorite songs of all time by one of my favorite singers, Abdel Halim Hafez. He personified what used to be a sort of ideal-the stoic, sexy, yet reserved singer, bandleader, dancer, actor–our Gene Kelly. This song is called “Ahwak” which means more than ‘I love you’-to truly adore someone else to your soul. It was allegedly written for an actress he was in love with who married someone else. Hafez himself would never marry and tragically died young. As corny as this sounds-this is how I feel about my home. Cheers to all the beautiful things. Then, now, and the ones on their way.
Photo credit: http://www.vebidoo.com/abd+el+halim+al+youssef
Well how ’bout them (miserable) apples…
The hits juuuuust keep comin’. This week saw the shuttering of a café in Downtown Cairo for allegedly being a meeting place of Satanists and Atheists (they must have loved the muffins?). A few things, first-it’s not uncommon for business owners to illegally set up tables and chairs on public sidewalks to increase their capacity. Or for shopkeepers to pay street sellers to set up in front of their competition (effectively annoying away anyone trying to gain entry to the store–it’s amazing stuff) Second, it’s not strange for the police to sweep the area to “clean” the place up and discourage peddlers. (I’ve seen it myself a few times-once I witnessed a bunch of street merchants pack their wares in a frenzy before the police came. Turned out one of the officers was from that neighborhood and knew the sellers and had called to warn them). This news follows on the heels of French-Egyptian journalist Alain Gresh being detained because he was speaking about politics with two female colleagues in a bar.
This got me thinking how important space is in this part of the world. It is not proper to show affection or emotion in public. Let alone a bit of skin. Our cafes are like our homes, they are respites. And despite what is happening many are still attempting to survive. One is Kafein in downtown. Egypt has the mighty distinction of having the most expensive coffee be the shittier coffee (because we get our beans from Brazil when we have bloody SUDAN NEXT DOOR-BUT DON’T GET ME STARTED ON NEO-LIBERAL-BROKERED SWEETHEART DEALS) Kafein is different in that it has wonderful offerings and is not a slick franchise. If you want music, Mahmoud Refat’s 100Copies is an experimental art/performance space. Ditto for VENT that just celebrated their first birthday. Balcon Lounge hosts everyone from conceptual artist to Egyptian kids playing gauzy, romantic American folk music. Last but not least is ASCII-an art and education space/classroom in a slum in Dokki, Cairo. I’ve been to every one of these places–I’m so heartened by what all of these people are trying to do. Sure would be nice if they were on the news for the great work they’re doing. Just saying.
I’m set to ship out to Cairo later this month. I always have trouble sleeping from the excitement, as well as the unknowing of what it will be like when I arrive. The news recently got me thinking about appearances in Cairo. In the span of a few days it was announced that a group of men where arrested in a hamaam (bathhouse) on charges of “lewdness”. Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, although it is not tolerated socially. Oddly, men in Egypt (and in much of the Middle East) are downright cuddly by Western standards. It’s not strange in the least to see two men walking down the street holding hands or arm-in-arm (but don’t you dare try that with your date in certain areas-whoa Nelly!) The hand-holding does not signify homosexuality, it shows the the men are dear friends. It’s hard for foreigners to get their heads around as we are quite frankly the opposite in our choice of PDA partners. Although it is this duality that makes the story of the bathhouse, this follows a story of two men being sentenced to three years for allegedly appearing in a video where they are getting married–as well as the Cairo Queen Boat raid 10 years ago–all the more heartbreaking. Egypt has historically been quite open in relation to the Middle East, and although one cannot expect a gay marriage act to pass in this lifetime, the usual had usually been ‘out of sight/out of mind’. It remains to be seen what the fates of the men arrested will be.
Syria lies in ruin now. Going forward it will be devastating to witness the works of art, architecture, and artists that have been lost. One that managed to escape with his family is Dabke singer Omar Souleyman. Dabke is a levantine style of folk music and dance (think line dancing0but cooler) Souleyman was long regarded for his style and voice, but he exploded onto the world stage when he was discovered by underground, world music record label “Sublime Frequencies“. His sound is at once classic, aggressive, and almost punk-esque in the balance between a gruff bark and velvety folk tone. He sings in Arabic and Kurdish and has pioneered an almost hardcore ethos to his words (one of my favorites is called “Hafer Gabrek” or “I Will Dig Your Grave With My Hands”–epicccccccc). Souleyman has found an audience in the most unlikely of places. Having performed to an exuberant crowds at Hardcore/Thrash/Punk fest “Chaos in Tejas” and and alt-music celebration South by Southwest. And having more recently completed a duet with Bjork. I’ve loved his stiff since I got a CD years ago as a birthday present. Now his music means so much much more.
Hosni Mubarak and co. have been acquitted from the killing of protestors and the issuance of a power vacuum that sought to destabilize the country to discredit the 2011 uprising. Mubarak was Egypt’s fourth president and ruled from 1981 to 2011-a tenure only exceeded by Mohammed Ali (1805-1848), the founder of modern Egypt. My Facebook feed is full of lament, cynicism, and rage. I don’t think anyone has any words for how this feels. Whether the Ferguson decision in the States, of the Mubarak trial in Egypt–it truly feels like one system under God, with no liberty or justice for anyone.
Youthful rebellion occurs all the time. But this is what happens when you’re Saudi, have your parents’ car, time, and no hope of having a beer. Check this-and if only for the guys smoking shisha at around 5:35
Photo credit: http://www.8and9.com/blog/whats-more-gangster-than-saudis-drifting-while-shooting/