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Cairo Now

The Post Revolution Entertainment Scene in Egypt

Protest at the Cairo Opera house

by Leila Farid
posted 11-20-13

As I sat in the Gomhoreya Theater the other day waiting for the ballet to start, I felt happy just to be there. Only a few short months ago, the dancers and staff had been on strike. They were demonstrating against a statement by the former Islamic Minister of Culture, calling the ballet “nudity” and “indecent” and proposing to eradicate it all together.

As I watched the gorgeous rendition of the old folk tale “Ayoub wa Nassa” by the Opera’s Forsen el Shar’a Ensemble, I couldn’t help but think of how close Egypt came to going down a road where dance, secular literature and film may have become dinosaurs of the past.

Since the massive demonstrations that lead to the ousting of Islamic president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt breathed a short sigh of relief. The two kilometer long gas lines are gone, the cost of electricity has been cut by at least half (and it actually works-no more day long power cuts), and water comes out of the tap when you turn it on. Essentials have been restored which make daily life easier. The sense of lawlessness that permeated the streets during Morsi’s presidency is gone. The police are back and the military is a presence again with the majority support of the people.

Now starts the long and grueling rebuilding of the country. Writing a new constitution, managing effectively the countries resources, establishing social programs and minimum wage, addressing the gas crisis, organizing a new and fair presidential election are just a few of the problems facing the interim government. Also the followers of ex-president Morsi did not go quietly. There are incidents every few days where Morsi’s followers retaliate for what they saw as a coup. The universities are hot beds for clashes between students who supported Morsi and the students who support his ousting.

For artists, we lived a very long year under Morsi’s presidency, wondering when and where the axe would fall and would it be our art form that was next on the chopping block. Tax cases were brought against most working dancers in Egypt and even those who had retired or returned to their own countries. The Islamists did not stop us from working but they made us pay for being dancers, literally.

It would have been hard to find a dancer in Egypt who didn’t celebrate the exit of Morsi and his government.

Just as the threat to our art form from the Islamists is gone, we face another one, economics. For dancers in particular, the elation at having a secular government has been replaced with the numbness of the dry spell that is already upon us.

Lynette had asked me when I was in the States over Ramadan last Summer, to update the Cairo clubs page, which was originally added in 2007, and updated in 2009, investment and industry has given people hope that this summer things will start to turn around. But the winter we are facing is long and cold.

Hopefully some of the restaurants and nightclubs that featured dancers will reopen or new ones will take their place. It is hard to imagine an Egypt where dance is not a big part of Egyptian entertainment. Personally, I don’t think Oriental dance in Egypt will die. I think it just has to sleep for a while before being awakened by the handsome prince of tourism and a stimulated economy. Maybe in the months ahead there will be a new beginning for raqs sharki; I have hope!

Leila performing in a Cairo Club

Current Clubs and Dance Venues in Cairo

Amoun Cabaret Shakira
Aquarius Cabaret Aziza, Shakira
Grand Hyatt Boat – Folklore Show only
Intercontinental/City Stars Fairooz Restaurant – Thursday nights only, Soroya
Memphis BoatLuna
Marriott Zamalek Outdoor Tent and Nightclub – Worked on and off after the revolution. Closed since early 2013
Meridian Haram Outdoor – Closed after the revolution
Merryland Outdoor – Closed from 2010
Mena House Nightclub/Restaurant – Closed after the revolution
Nile Pharoan Boat – Working one cruise a night if they have reservations Magda Monti, Mona Ghazi
Nile Maxim Boat – Working one cruise a night (the dancer you see is based on the number of reservation for that night) Leila Farid, Nesma, Noura (dancer on CD)
Parisiana Nightclub – Working, Lucy (by special request)
Pyamesa Nightclub – Closed
Semiramis Intercontinental Haroun al Rashid Nightclub – Worked on and off after the revolution. Closed in early 2013
Sheraton Cairo Aladdin Restaurant – Closed in 2010
Sunset Cabaret – Working Aziza, Shakira, Shams
VIP Cabaret, Nabila Cairo – Working, Safinez

Some more Cabarets that are working in Harem Street – Lido, Hormoheb, Tivoli, Aish al Bolbol, El Leil.
*Cabarets now have house bands. The dancer does not bring her own band with her.

Licensed dancers working in Restaurants, Boats or Cabarets in Cairo:

Aziza (Egyptian) – Sunset, other Cabarets
Kariman (Egyptian) – Haram
Leila Farid (American/Egyptian) – Nile Maxim
Lucy (Egyptian) – Parisiansa (by special request)
Luna (American) – Memphis Boat
Magda Monti (Argentina) – Nile Pharoan
Mona Ghazi (Hungary) – Nile Pharoan
Nagwan (Egyptian) – Cabaret
Nesma (Egyptian) – Nile Maxim
Noura (Egyptian) – Nile Maxim
Safinaz (Russian) – VIP Nabila Cairo
Shams (Egyptian) – Sunset, other Cabarets
Shakira (Egyptian) – Sunset, other Cabarets
Soroya (Brazilian, Egyptian) – City Stars Fairooz Restaurant

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   |       |    4 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    asmahan

    Nov 21, 2013 - 10:11:21

    Thank you for this news update, Leila. I have been worried sick about Egypt since the beginning of the Revolution. You are very brave and stong to be living in Cairo and dancing and helping the musicians and artists to endure this terrible time in Egypt’s history. Tourism, Culture, Art and History are the main assets Egypt has for its ecomonic success and status in the world. Any goverment that would degrade and deny these assets is a danger to the well being of the counrty and the people. All blessing to you, Safaa, your family, the musicians and artists. Your news is heartbreaking but a little encouraging.

  2. No Gravatar
    Mellybelly

    Nov 22, 2013 - 12:11:41

    semiramis is closed??? no more Dina??? has she stopped her regular shows in favour of only private events? That would make me very sad… 🙁

  3. No Gravatar
    Sahra C Kent

    Nov 29, 2013 - 11:11:55

    Good to know, things are looking up.  I second Leila’s comment: “It would have been hard to find a dancer in Egypt who didn’t celebrate the exit of Morsi and his government.” It takes courage to write that and be living there.  Best of luck Leila!
     

  4. No Gravatar
    Noor Ala Nar

    Dec 6, 2013 - 02:12:50

    I came to Egypt as a professional middle eastern dance artist.  About a year before the ‘revolution’ you could feel the tension when you said you were a dancer…it did not even matter what kind of dancer.  Since that time, it has become almost impossible to live in any small village and be a dancer and Cairo is not much better.  The villagers will consider you such an outcast socially it would be better to have The Plague.  I still teach and perform…but no longer advertise whatsoever.  Absolutely all the major hotels have stopped their shows…I used to work the same venues as Tito on the Red Sea….all are closed now to dance shows.  Fortunately, I have my own private studio as all venues for teaching that were affordable are now closed also.  So, I rely on repeat tourist customers….which are very few at the moment as tourism is beyond belief low…regardless of what the stats are.  As for giving tours to dancers as I have for the past ten years…NO WAY!!  It is far too dangerous in so many ways…you are taking lives in your hands to do this right now…much crime against tourists and women here.  Yes, there are dancers still bringing students for tours and I applaud them.  However, they are gambling…there is no amount of security that will keep you safe.  Every Egyptian woman I know will tell you horror stories from these past three years….!!  No police will help you.  No insurance here is worth two dimes rubbed together.  You are no longer in your safe world of the US.  This is a wild, free land where you survive on your wits and family to keep you safe.  Dancers do not have either here!  You can never be as clever or outsmart these men if they want to harm you.  The ‘pack’ mentality here is alive.  Even I, having built a villa and financially survived here ten years, will not travel about this beautiful country right now.  Insha’Allah times will change and we can again move about and enjoy this wonderful land….but as more and more men and women grow hungry and poorer…the crimes are becoming more and more heinous.   Even police are known to rob the very victims that have come to the police stations for help.  Desperation is leading to more dangerous times.  Pray for Egypt….save your dimes for a safer more wondrous time ahead.

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MaryEllen Donald