Editor-in-chief of the Arab West Report, Kees Hulsman, took a group of us on a trip to the pilgrimage sites of the fathers of monasticism on November 21. Our group comprised of 30 people from 11 nations who were Muslims and Christians, students, working men and women both young and old.
Like most Londoners, I was brought up with respect for taxi drivers. As a child, the ability to navigate with precision through the 1500km² mass of one-way streets and road works that make up the capital struck me – in fact still strikes me – with absolute awe. Everyone born in London knows the three to four years it takes cabbies to complete ‘The Knowledge’, the training in which prospective drivers attempt to learn every street in the capital. The black-taxi driver is equipped with incredible skills of navigation, universally respected by everyone who lives in the city.
When Uber came to the UK our reverence for black cabs took on a kind of nationalist resistance: “How can we let a foreign company come here and displace our cabbies?” It upset us that armed, with a smartphone and a satnav, anyone can get in a car and challenge the professionals for their jobs. The newspapers were full of suspicion and accusations for the San Francisco-based company, and the name Uber became synonymous with malpractice and corporate bullying.
It was an inevitable conclusion, however, and our resistance was hopeless. Black-cab prices had become so high that for most of us they had become rare a luxury. London cabbies needed new competition, and the rest of us needed to cheaper taxis. Before long, most of us gave in and downloaded the app, including me. But we didn’t lose our reverence for our black cabbies.
I moved to Cairo a couple of years ago. Familiar with the extortionate transport costs of London, it was exciting to live somewhere where taxis were still affordable. In Cairo, taxis are not the privilege of the rich, but used by everyone – barring the very rich and the exceptionally poor. And they are everywhere; waiting for a taxi is something that can take an age in London but in Cairo I’ve never waited more than a minute.I came to love Cairo taxis. My struggling Arabic improved greatly with regular chats with the drivers, and I learnt about Egyptian culture much faster than I would have if I drove everywhere solo. Like all interactions, some were less pleasant, but on the whole I became very fond of Cairo taxis, and quickly became reliant on them. These days when I go back to London, it’s one of the main things I miss from Cairo.
Then Uber arrived. Like in London the interest was slow to build, with most people unsure of the new idea. But soon more people got on board, and became popular. It was followed with protests. As in cities all over the world, taxi drivers took to the streets to protest the newcomers, and, as elsewhere, it was not entirely obvious what they were protesting for. But unlike anywhere else I had seen, their protest garnered no support from the people I spoke to – in fact, the opposite was true.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with preferring an air-conditioned Hyundai to a ’77 Tofas Sahin with broken seats; and I understand why females feel safer with a named driver. If you want to use the app then I’m not trying to stop you (you can even use my promo code: eddieb1641ue.) If Uber pays the same tax as white-cab drivers – which they currently don’t – then nobody has the right to stop them competing.
But the level of vitriol directed towards taxi drivers shocked me. In the comments section, under the news of the protest, readers were filled with nothing but hate for the drivers: “I will always pick Uber or Careem over those scumbags anytime of the day even if it's illegal,” read one.
“Cairo taxi drivers you deserve all worst things will happen to you [SIC],” said another.
“I had a taxi driver in Cairo decide he wasn't going my way after he already let me into the cab… I wasn't about to let him get away with it, so I started screaming ‘edinee zahbet’ [give me an officer]…One came…and hailed another taxi for me; but not before I had the satisfaction of seeing that creep's taxi being impounded,” proudly proclaimed an American resident, to a chorus of ‘likes’. Of the hundreds of comments, I can count on one hand those that expressed any sympathy for the drivers defending their livelihood.
I write this as a foreigner, and as a male. Perhaps my experiences are different from most. I’ve certainly never had to deal with sexual harassment – although this might be a wider problem, not limited to taxi drivers. My good experiences in Cairo taxis far outweigh the bad. Of course I’ve been in taxis before where the driver didn’t know the streets – like the cabbie who took me around Mohandesin for 15 minutes before confessing he didn’t know where Maadi was – but I’ve been in taxis where I’ve been astounded at their knowledge of the roads. Cairo is a difficult city to navigate, and to be with a taxi driver who knows his route, down to the last pot-hole, is certainly impressive. One of the most frustrating things about Uber drivers is that they blindly follow their satnav, and feel no obligation to know the roads at all.
And yes, it’s frustrating when a driver doesn’t want to go your way, but given the traffic in some areas, I’ve never thought it to be unfair. London cabbies do the same, and in the past famously refused to ‘go south of the river’ where they thought they wouldn’t get a fare; an annoyance for those living in South London in 1980, but nowadays a fondly-recalled affidavit for the black-cab London cabbie. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their car and they can go where they want, and if they want to smoke like a chimney and listen to music at full volume then that’s their right: just as I have the right to take another cab.
And obviously I’ve had arguments with cabbies, but also many enjoyable conversations. For that matter, I’ve also had some very enjoyable arguments, and once all was said and done I’ve seldom left a taxi on bad terms. A recent fight between me and the driver over using the meter had him explaining his position quite clearly: that prices had increased so much in recent years but the meter had not gone up in almost three years, and even then only by a couple of pounds. He pointed but how many extra taxis there are on the streets these days, how fuel prices were going up and customers were going down. Uber, he said, was just the latest in a list of new challenges. In the end I gave him the fare he wanted plus a tip.
I don’t see how this vilification of taxi drivers is justified. It’s obvious that Cairo’s transport infrastructure is lacking, but we can hardly blame the drivers who have been keeping it moving at all for so long. Life is tough for most Egyptians these days, and drivers are among those hit the hardest. Are taxi drivers really a fair target for our frustration? Or are attacks on local drivers, in preference to American-based companies like Uber, to do with something else?
Edmund Bower is Editor-in-Chief of Maadi Messenger.
Meet the women behind Intense Gym, as they share their philosophy on health, life, and workouts.
The sign ‘Strong is the New Skinny’ shines new and bright among the many ice cream shops and restaurants on a popular Degla side street. Underneath that neon sign is the new Intense gym: a ladies only gym built by women, for women who are looking for something more in their workouts.
It is May 2004, 3am, and I am fighting the tiredness with tea and energy drinks to get my final year engineering project completed for the end of the week. My housemates are out. Not partying, but also pulling some all-nighters down in the workshop, frantically finishing off the Oxford Brookes Formula Student race car, ready to be taken to Silverstone to compete against other universities from all over the world.
Fast forward eleven years and I find myself interviewing Ahmed al-Guindy, who is doing exactly the same here at Cairo University. Ahmed is the team’s Managerial Director and one of 19 students who are studying mechanical, electrical, and aerospace engineering. They are split into six sub-groups with dedicated responsibility for different parts of the car such as chassis, brakes, and suspension. Unlike my peers in Oxford, who can work right down to the wire then put the car on a trailer the night before, the Cairo University car will take weeks to be shipped over to Germany for the competition at the Hockenheim Formula One circuit, a point that was not lost on the judges as the team won an award in recognition of their struggles and determination.
I have carefully used the word compete and not race. Ahmed keeps reminding me that “it’s not about racing, it’s about learning”, which is very much the truth. The team is judged on lots of things, many of which are done with the car stationary. They are being judged as a complete race team, so even how they attract sponsorship and manage their budget is scrutinised. The design and engineering of the car are inspected, and once the car is fired up the acceleration, handling, efficiency, and reliability are all measured. Old clichés such as; ‘there’s no “I” in “team”’ and ‘it’ll look good on your CV’ really do play out here. It has been known for engineering talent scouts to hire an entire team off the bat of their performance in Formula Student.
The team have many more challenges facing them than teams in the west. The ordering of certain parts has to be done weeks ahead of when they are required, rather than everything being available with next day delivery. Also, the quality of materials can be difficult to ensure, and when you are machining fractions of millimetres off an aluminium bracket to reduce weight as much as possible, the purity of the metal is of great importance. The month of Ramadan can slow down the pace of life, and that extends to students working in a sweaty workshop with a deadline that does not move.
I cynically ask if the aims of the students would be to move abroad and try and get a job in Europe? Ahmed’s infectious passion for engineering in Egypt and his entrepreneurial spirit quickly put that one to bed. He tells me of the team members’ grand plans to innovate and start businesses here in Egypt. Ahmed also has a passion for renewable energy and gets sidetracked, telling me about the Shell Eco Mileage competition that the university also enters. Ahmed constantly brings it back to the learning experience. He knows they will be some way behind Munich University, Stuttgart University, and indeed my old haunt, Oxford Brookes University at the competition. But then Formula Student only started in Egypt in 2012 – decades after America and Europe. Ahmed sees this as a long term project that will take time to develop, though already Cairo University is top of all Middle East teams, including six in Egypt. He concludes by telling me that students like these will soon be starting the real revolution in Egypt. One of industry, enterprise, and economic success.
Benjamin James has a background in automotive engineering, a keen interest in two- and four-wheel motoring, and an unrequited passion for overlanding.
When the armies of the Ottoman Empire arrived at the gates of Cairo in 1517, they found no walls to speak of on either side. The defences of the city had long fallen into disrepair, and the Mamluk soldiers who garrisoned the city had nothing to defend against their attackers. The crumbled walls no longer served as anything more than a stark image of the faded glory of the Egyptian Sultanate. The empire, which had defeated the Mongols less than three centuries before, had stagnated in the face of recurrent plague epidemics, economic decline, and corrupt, ineffectual leadership. The defenders had no other choice but to ride out and meet their enemy on the desert plains surrounding the city. They were rewarded with a massacre; the 800 Mamluks who were captured alive were decapitated, their heads set on pikes and triumphantly paraded through the city's gates.
In the early 16th century, the Ottoman Empire, under Selim I, was more vast and expansionist than at any other point in previous centuries. Its territory stretched from the Balkans to Persia and from Georgia to the Arabian Peninsula. Upon Cairo’s capture, the city was demoted instantly from a seat of Empire, to a provincial capital. This is not to say that Egypt suffered economically from the change. After a dire state affairs before the Ottomans arrived, Cairo underwent a period of development and economic success for the next three centuries of Ottoman rule. It does mean, however, that Cairo’s skyline was not greatly altered during this period. Previous Egyptian Sultans tended to rule until death and devoted large parts of their wealth to patronising great monuments in their honour – particularly the Mamluk slave sultans who were disallowed from leaving an inheritance. The Ottoman governors, on the other hand, saw their post in Cairo as a step on the career ladder, often leading to the most prominent positions in Istanbul. Their tenure lasted an average of three years, far too little time to amass neither the funds nor the motivation for large-scale building projects.
The few that do exist, however, are of great interest. One of the best examples of Ottoman architecture in Cairo is from the early days of occupation. The mosque of Sultan Sulayman Pasha, built within the citadel, was completed in 1528 and is a wonderful example of Ottoman architectural style. Prominent artisans from the fringes of the empire were often brought to Istanbul, one way in which Ottoman styles were disseminated so quickly through the provinces. The mosque of Sulayman Pasha lacks any distinguishing Egyptian features and is entirely Ottoman in design, with its wide flat domes and distinctively elegant Ottoman “pencil-top” minaret.
Most architecture during this period, however, was a hybrid between Mamluk and Ottoman styles. Usually the Ottoman style of minaret was used, but the mosque to which it was attached was often a mixture of styles, sometimes totally Mamluk. Buildings like this served as a more accurate analogy for the relationship between Istanbul and Cairo. While through nearly all of this period the Ottomans maintained nominal control over the city, they were in perpetual rivalry with the Mamluk emirs. From the beginning, the Mamluks had an official role in the governing of Egypt, and a number of times the rivalry escalated into pitched battles within the city with large armies and artillery – the rebellion of 1609 is sometimes referred to as the “second capturing of Egypt.”
For the most part, however, Cairo was relatively safe. The draconian punishments meted out to criminals were performed with such gruesome theatrics as to capture the attention of any would-be thieves. An observer around 1640 tells of two men sentenced to death paraded through the streets each with ‘a round stake about the thickness of an arm, pointed on the end and the top coated with soap, apparently to penetrate more readily…After they arrived at the designated place…[the executioner]…started to make the stake penetrate him…making it pass with great blows from a wooden mallet until it emerged above the shoulders…and the subject was left upright…some remain alive for almost two days in this state.’ It was not uncommon for the Sultan himself to take walks through the city with his men, killing on sight anyone he considered in violation of the law.
However, other methods of policing were less extreme, such as the mandate that those who walk at night were obligated to carry a torch, keeping the streets and its occupiers well lit. The close communities also upheld the law, such as in 1740 when a woman was found dead in the public baths. A man’s vest was found close to her, which was taken to the head of the tailor’s syndicate. He ascertained the garment’s creator who in turn was then able to identify the murderer.
The Ottoman administration not only provided security to their subjects, but also a number of public works. Fountains were built on a grand scale and a vast network of water carriers was created. Many fountains became institutions in their own right, housing schools for children within their walls. A most famous example of this is the Sabil Kuttab Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda on the top of Al-Muizz Street in Fatimid Cairo. Although commissioned by a Mamluk emir, it was built in a distinctively Ottoman style and opened in 1744. The main building that houses the fountain and primary school over two floors has been preserved in good condition, while the northern sections of the complex are now local residences.
Further down the road, just south of Bab Zuwayla is the little known but visually impressive covered market of Ridwan Bey, established in 1650 by the Ottoman governor. Although he only served for three years in Cairo before returning back to Istanbul and becoming Grand Vizier, his market is still active. With the exception of some businesses, such as those on Suq al Silah Street (The Weapons Market), many craftsmen still operate in the same trades as previous generations, weaving baskets and fabricating tents.
But the weakness of the Ottomans in Egypt and the ambitions of the Mamluk emirs proved destructive for the empire. Repeated rebellions and power struggles created constant unrest for the Sultan. Powerless to prevent it, the expulsion of the Ottoman elite by the Mamluks from the city in 1711 is described to us as a wandering troop of lords and noblemen, sobbing through the desert back to Istanbul. The symbiotic unease of Mamluk–Ottoman relations came to a halt only towards the dawn of the nineteenth century. On the morning of 1st of July 1798, a large fleet of ships bearing tri-coloured flags was spotted heading towards the closed harbour at Alexandria. European imperialism had arrived.
Maadi’s Tipsy Teapot was literally buzzing for two days in November as it hosted the second annual Cairo Tattoo Convention. Over 15 tattoo and body-modification artists journeyed to Cairo to partake in the convention. To an outsider, Egypt is usually known for pyramids and camels, not for its ink – especially considering religious and cultural taboos about permanent body markings. But the inked faithful journeyed to Maadi and drew hundreds of curious Egyptians and ex-pats.
With pet ownership on the increase in Cairo, vets are springing up everywhere, expanding their businesses across the city. For those of you with a furry friend at home, and for those of you thinking of adopting a new one, Maadi Messenger has compiled a list of the top vets in Cairo. Here, in no particular order, are some of our favourite establishments that you can trust to take your beloved pets! Remember, log onto our Facebook page this month to vote for your favourite clinic! The winner will be announced next month!
1) American Veterinary Center, Degla
The smallest of five clinics, the American Pet Center in Maadi is a branch of a company based in New York. With other branches in Alexandria, Sheikh Zayed, and Zamalek, American Veterinary Center has a large bank of resources for difficult cases and is even known to send the most serious ones for treatment in America. They offer all standard veterinary services, including minor surgery and dental treatments, and routinely perform call-outs and home visits. They have separate boarding facilities for healthy pets as well as sick. American Veterinary Center is open from 10am to 10pm every day except Fridays when they are open from 2pm to 7pm. American Veterinary Center, 11C Street 199, Maadi Degla; Tel: 02 25177266; Website: www.AmericanVetCenter.com
2) Advance Care, Degla
One of the older clinics in Maadi, Advance Care was founded in 2001 by Dr. Adel Amal. After spending a 40-year career working in the United States, he returned to Egypt to open his clinic here. He has never expanded into other branches and has always tried to maintain the local, community those of Advance Care. He first opened the clinic to serve the foreign community in Maadi and all of his equipment has been shipped over from the US. They offer all clinical services including minor surgery, however they only have the facilities to board sick animals under-going treatment. They are open from 9am to 7pm six days a week; they are closed on Friday. Advance Care, 6G Street 199, Maadi Degla; Tel: 02 2754 4267
3) International Animal Hospital, Ring Road
The largest of the clinics listed, the most services provided and certainly the most visually impressive. The International Animal Hospital is out in the desert between Cairo and New Cairo, just east of Carrefour. The location means they have space to accommodate many animals. Cats and dogs are boarded in the ‘pet motel’, which features a large exercise area big enough to run around in for the dogs, and a ‘room with a view’ for the cat section. Some more unconventional animals can also be found there, such as horses, deer and even crocodiles. The hospital has a number of operating theatres, practice rooms and a variety of professionals, including physiotherapists, dermatologists and visiting professor who come from Germany for special cases. Furthermore, if you have been inspired by this month’s article on raising a street dog then be advised that the International Animal Hospital gives a discount of 50% for street animals! They are open 24 hours each day, with walk-ins until 7pm. International Animal Hospital, Katameya Ring Road, Tel: 0111 821 1181
4) Pet Cure Veterinary Clinic, New Cairo
One of the newer clinics that has opened up in New Cairo is Pet Cure. For the past two years Pet Cure has providing clinical services to people local to the Fifth Settlement. The clinic has the resources to carry out minor surgeries-rays, neutering etc. but it the smallest veterinary listed here. They have a good record in curing the dangerous canine parvovirus, with around a 70% success rate. They offer boarding for both sick and healthy animals and provide home visits for those living in New Cairo. The clinic is open from 1pm to 10pm with the exception of Friday when they are open from 3pm to 9pm. Tel: 0109 098 0050
5) British Animal Hospital, Degla
The British Animal Hospital opened their branch in Maadi in 2013, which is now one of six outlet. They perform all services that any other clinic would offer and also minor and major surgery including bone surgery. They offer boarding services for healthy animals as well as sick animals and have a good emergency service. There are vets on call 24/7 and they are particular proud of their good record in treating dogs for poison. They take part in the TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) program, designed to reduce the number of street animals in the most humane way. Aside from their 24/7 emergency service they are open from 12pm-7pm each day. British Animal Hospital, 38-40 Street 200, Maadi Degla; Tel: 010 2444 6423; Website: www.BritishAnimalHospital.com
Last week we compiled a list of our favourite places to take children on days out and we asked YOU to vote for your favourite on our Facebook page. We have the honour to announce this month, that the place you chose as the number one activity for kids in Cairo was: KidZania! Thank you to everyone who took part. Check our Facebook for regular updates on the next vote!
When one thinks of wine one thinks of France; vineyards rolling over the soft Burgundy countryside, or chasing the river through the Rhone valley. We think of Northern Spain, and the vast open plateaux of Rioja, or the steep terraces of West Germany on the banks of the Rhine. There are few among us who would think of Egypt. Little wonder, Egypt is hardly known for its wine production – or its wine consumption. Yet, within the fertile folds of the Nile Delta lays one of the oldest wine producing traditions on earth.
The importance of wine to the Ancient Egyptians has been well recorded. Both for ceremonial purposes and in the pursuit of leisure, our Egyptian ancestors indulged heavily in the consumption of the alcoholic grape drink we still enjoy today. Even through Egypt’s Islamic age this tradition continued, as Egyptian Christians and Jews brewed wine to be drunk (often in secret) by nearly everyone. But the history of Egypt’s modernised wine industry begins with a young Greek at the end of the 19th century.
In 1882, Nestor Gianaclis arrived in Egypt in search of a location on which to construct a vineyard. After some time, he settled on a spot in the Nile Delta, not far from the port city of Alexandria. In those days the annual Nile floods ensured constant hydration and fertility for his vines, and the predictable, dry conditions made it a competitive spot to cultivate grapes for wine production. The vineyard still bears his name to this day, and continues to be the number one producer of wine in Egypt.
“We don’t have the complex soils of Europe, but we can certainly surprise people with the wine we produce.” David Molyneux-Berry is the head wine consultant for Gianaclis Vineyards. One of the founding members of the prestigious Sotheby’s Auctioneers of London, David spent most of his career as their chief wine auctioneer, proudly conducting the first wine auction in New York since prohibition. He certainly knows a thing or two about wine, and nowadays puts his depth of knowledge into helping Gianaclis restore its former glory.
“We do a lot of experiments in our wine cultivation,” he explains, “and we get some good results. We have attended wine expos in Europe and received very positive feedback on what we produce.”
Under David’s guidance, Gianaclis has gone through a vast array of different grape varieties, inspecting which type works best under the conditions the Egyptian Delta has to offer. An experimental vineyard on site at the winery keeps track of the conditions of the plants through high-tech satellite technology. An age away from ‘flood irrigation’, the vineyards are part of the movement spearheading the far more efficient ‘drip irrigation’ in Egypt – good not only for the environment, but also the quality of the vines. Gianaclis even boasts the largest water purifier in Egypt to assist with the production process.
All grapes are destemmed, crushed, and fermented on site. The barrel room is maintained for the slow fermentation of the finest wines on offer. Here, wines are left to sit in oak casks brought over especially from France at a cost of €850 (LE7500) each. The wines are allowed to mature slowly and to take on the select flavour of the French oak.
The result is fantastic, and David is the perfect guide to explain. He pours a bottle of Ayam White and holds it up to the light. “You see this wine has taken on the properties of some very common fruits. You can smell the aromas of peaches, green apples, and pears from the first sniff.” One of the waiters on hand opens up a bottle of Zaman Red and pours David a glass. “Zaman is the same, it is very fruity but in this case it is red fruits, berries, blackcurrants etc.” He is certainly a firm advocate of his own wine.
“We want people to realise how good our wine has become,” says David. “I remember one French wine merchant who was in a similar situation. Its reputation had dropped, through no fault of its own, and it had to get its name back out there. They sent off bottles of their finest wines to all of the wine critiques of France with a label attached that simply said ‘remember how good this used to be?’ That month, everyone was talking about them!”
This is what David and the Gianaclis team have been trying to do. They now allow tour groups to visit the winery, where they can learn more about the history of the establishment and wine production in Egypt. They lead their guests around the fermentation and bottling process, to give people an idea of how the industry actually works. The trip includes ample tasting opportunities of their finest wines, as well as a European style buffet in the beautifully fashioned visitor centre.
“We’re still expanding,” says David. “We are beginning to build a refinery to create a thoroughly enjoyable whiskey. We currently produce whiskey that is drinkable, but we are looking to take it further and create something that people can really enjoy!” Tour groups who visit now can see the refinery being built; in the not so distant future they will be able to try the whiskey for themselves!
David and his team have high hopes for the future. The ancient art of Egyptian wine production lies in their hands and they are positive about the steps they are taking. Perhaps it will not be too long, until consumers the world over will find ‘Egyptian Wine’ sections in their local wine merchants.
Are you inspired to visit Gianaclis? Join us on our next ‘Maadi Messenger Meet-up’! We will be taking a tour and a tasting excursion as a group on the 16th of January. Transport from Maadi and Zamalek is provided and the entire trip costs just LE150 per person. Check out the ‘Community News’ section for more details, sign-up on Facebook for further updates, or call Eddie on 01099161003 to arrange a booking!
It began with my puppy’s mother. She greeted me whenever I approached my apartment in Downtown Cairo. She never jumped or barked, and would often accompany me to the corner. In another life she would have been a beloved family pet, but she was born an Egyptian street dog. I named her Basbousa.