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The Akon Disaster — UPDATED

A couple weeks back I wondered why Iron Maiden wouldn’t come to  Cairo .   Probably for the same reason that the Akon Concert in Cairo was a disaster.   Unless a Western-style concert culture exists, acts like this are hard to make work in places like Egypt.  From Sandmonkey:

So, here I am, preparing for my trip back to Cairo, when people start sending me messages and e-mails about The Akon concert in the Cairo Opera. Now, I didn’t know he was singing in Cairo to begin with, let alone fathom the concept of whose bright idea was it that this man should be allowed to sing in the Egyptian Opera..but whatever. My people are silly, and they do irrational shit like allow Akon into the Opera House. Anyway..

The news is however that the concert was a very rare breed of disaster, which makes my heart just sing a little bit. The man was slated to show up at 9 M, but showed up at 1 am instead; The people who paid 1000 LE per VIP ticket ended up being sent to the Hospital because the VIP Lounge collapsed before the show even begun; He shows up finally all drunk, sings for half an hour, and then attempts to do some crowd surfing(very bad idea), and then he starts calling for help in his mic because the crowd apparently kidnaps him and take him all the way to the parking lot and then put him on a car, which he ends up destroying and then ends the concert… Yeah… Sounds like a great time.

UPDATE: Inanities has a hilarious, must-read  account of the concert, including pictures of the madness.  Somebody get whoever Inanities is a job at the New York Times…..


More on the Egypt bombings….

Al-Ahram’s Khalil Anani has a good piece at Daily News Egypt on the recent bomb attack in Cairo.   For those who aren’t intricately familiar with Egyptian intelligensia, take note of the source:  Khalil is a respected scholar of political Islam, author of a good book on the Muslim Brotherhood, and from his perch on the 11th floor of  Cairo’s prestigous Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, he hears whatever inside scoops there are to be heard.  What  he says here generally “fits the puzzle”  as I see it:

It seems we are witnessing a new type of terrorism that can best be described as “random individual terrorism.” It is a pattern indicating the absence of a large organization taking responsibility for these operations.

Instead, small extremist cells made up of four or five members sharing a violent ideology and seeking to implement it on the ground could be behind the attacks, making it very difficult for security bodies to track them down.

But the question is: who is behind the Al-Hussein bombing? There can be several explanations: First there has been a large increase in Salafist discourse in Egyptian society over the past three years. I have repeatedly warned of the possibility of a change of thoughtamong the Egyptian Salafist trend, which opts for violence.

It is true that the Salafist movement is not interested in politics, but at a certain point, some of its members may show a desire to express their ideas in a violent way, as was the case in Taba, Dahab and Sharm El-Sheikh which were the target of terrorist bombings between 2004 and 2006. Small fundamentalist groups claimed responsibility for them.

Second, regional tensions, especially after the war on Gaza, and the political ascendancy of the conservative Israeli right, as well as deep Arab division, fan feelings of violence and the radical ideology of some small religious groups who seek revenge on behalf of the Palestinians.

Third, some new jihadists are bent on embarrassing and retaliating against the Egyptian regime as punishment for its regional policies especially during the war on Gaza. Targeting tourism, which is a major source of national income, could be part of this vengeance.

Finally, the bombings may be in response to international attitudes in favor of Israel, and thus increasing the anger of many categories within the Egyptian society, especially the marginalized and the underprivileged.

Blast in Cairo

From Daily News Egypt:

CAIRO: Seventeen people were wounded, including 11 French tourists, three Germans and three Egyptians when a bomb went off in the tourist district of Al Hussein, near the popular Khan Al Khalili market in the heart of Cairo at around 7 pm.

A conflicting report by Reuters, however, claims that four people had died, two of them tourists, but their nationality has not been disclosed. The report said that eleven people were also wounded, six seriously.

The Daily News Egypt correspondent present at the scene shortly after, said that at around 8:10 pm another explosion was heard, but that it did not incur any casualties.

No smoke was visible.

By then at least 1000 riot policemen had filled the area, which was sealed off completely.

Read CNN here and BBC here

I know nothing except what I read at DNE but here’s my preliminary thoughts:  This is consistent with the kind of random violence that commentators have been predicting for a while now and is not likely connected to any organized groups.   The militant Jihadi groups of the 1980s and 1990s have been broken up by the state and, for the most part,  made their own decisions to give up violence.  The other group that comes to mind is Al-Qaeda but they are not thought to have a presence in Egypt.  However, this does not mean violence has disappeared.  Given the horrible socio-economic conditions in Egypt, there are enough reasons why Egyptians would be so pissed off at the world that they resort to violence.   But its random acts, commited by individuals with no connections to organized militant groups (because they don’t exist anymore in Egypt).  Both Ibrahim Eissa and Hussam Tamem have been saying for a while now and based solely on the information that’s available, I think this is what is happening here.  We should probably not read too much into this incident; Unless a pattern starts emerging, its probably not significant. 

Of course, if there are any new developments, expect to read about them here at MediaShack.

The decline of the Egyptian Bar Scene

An interesting article  in the International Herald Tribune writes about the decline of the Cairo bar scene:

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 city center.

The former police officer is part of a cadre of older Egyptian men who frequent drinking holes and belly dancing cabarets chronicled by the 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 central city.

“They were part of an Egypt that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Alaa al-Aswany, who immortalized the remnants of the Cairo 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.

There  has been a movement, led by non-Egyptians,  to rejuvenate the Cairo downtown bar-scene over the last couple years (mentioned in the story).  However, I’m ambivalent about whether this is something that should be encouraged.  The overwhelming majority of Egyptians are opposed to bars and alcohol consumption, and, contrary to what Alaa Aswanty implies or outright says,  this is not a matter of Islamic fundamentalism.   So I don’t see anything particularly intolerant or backwards about discouraging the presence of bars, especially in working class downtown neighborhoods. 

See this Egyptian Chronicles post for an Egyptian perspective.   I agree with Zeinab.  Alaa Aswany likes to look back nostalgically at the good old days (ie before Nasser) as if this  period represented the heyday of progress and tolerance.  I suspect  that, statistically, the amount of Egyptians who drank alcohol before the Revolution (and similarly the % that rejected it) and those who do now is very similar- very, very small.   Both pre-Rev and post-Rev the overwhelming majority of Egyptians did not drink alcoholwhich they consider prohibited according to the basic rules of Islam.    The difference is that  before 1952 , Egypt was dominated by foreign, non-local rule and customs which made it more socially acceptable for the small number of Muslims who drank, to do it openly.  Once the foreigners were kicked out,  its only natural that Egypt return to its native culture, which for 90% of the population, is clearly inconsistent with a bar culture.


Aswany says resistance to bars in downtown Cairo is a sign of Islamic fundamentalism.  I disagree and think its the other way around.  The presence of bars, something clearly inconsistent with Islamic values,  is what causes Islamic fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism is a return to what are pure Islamic values.  From 700 through the 1800s, there were no bars whatsoever in Egypt.  Only with foreign (non-Muslim) colonialism did they appear.   The imposition of something so clearly un-Islamic, is what causes the society’s desire to return to what is clearly Islamic.   So I do not necessarily  believe it is a sign of backwardness and negative fundamentalism for Egyptian society to have emptied Cairo out of its bar scene.


Why is the  narrative (especially the framing in the fundamentalist context) always   defined by AlaaAswany .  Why is he the official spokesperson for Egyptian cultural mores?  Sure he is very accessible so maybe its easier as a reporter to get ahold of him. but his politicaland social views are not shared by large percentages of Egyptians.   I am certain that intellectuals such as Rafiq Habib, Fahmy Huwedi, Hussuam Tamem, all more established and influential inside Egypt,  would also have different takes on this story.  They certainly wouldn’t see cutting back on bars as some kind of regressive return to fundamentalism.