Space…Your Only Frontier

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.


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