Exploring Nightlife in Cairo [opinion]

In the Egyptian capital of Cairo, life seems to start at dusk. In this report, Weekend Magazine explores the various shades of night life in the famous city.

Despite the Egypt’s twin ‘revolutions’ that brought down Hosni Mubarak and Muhammed Morsi’s governments in 2011 and 2013, Cairo still bubbles at night with uncommon serenity. On daily basis, workers hurriedly meander through Cairo’s traffic after close of work around 4pm to prepare for their night life with friends or family members. Just before night fall, people from all walks of life are seen carefully herding their friends, spouses, children into hotels, public parks or restaurants to enjoy their nights.

The many shisha-smoking joints across the city prepare their pipes waiting for customers. At the same time, soccer-viewing centres turn on their large screens for the day’s European league matches. Also, along the Nile River banks, well-suited waiters and stewards are making preparations to receive customers who would savour the exceptional experience of eating dinner onboard a floating restaurant.

At the heart of Islamic Cairo, some shouting distance from the famous University of Azhar, some Sufi dancers soothe the minds and feats the senses of their audience by their majestic whirling dance. This reporter is among the 22 participants currently in Egypt for a three-week training course for young African journalists organised by the Union of African Journalists (UAJ) and the government of Egypt.

Courtesy Egypt’s ministries of tourism and that of culture, as well as the Al-Akhbar newspaper, the course participants were hosted to a dinner for three days onboard the floating restaurants of Cairo. The dinner was followed by live entertainment which included life folklore show, belly dancing and a colorful belly dancing show with a folklore band, featuring the unforgettable Al-Tannoura spin, in keeping with Egypt’s whirling dervishes tradition. The journalists enjoyed a Nile River dinner cruise aboard some of the elegant cruising restaurants sailing the world’s longest waterway, the Nile Crystal and the Alsaraya boats.

Alongside other tourists, who are mostly diplomats, among others, a first-class service was served for almost two hours while sailing across Cairo’s illuminated skyline. Following dinner is live entertainment provided by a spectacular belly-dancing and folklore show.

There are about six floating and six stable multi-storey restaurants in Cairo which respond to the desire of people who cruise over the Nile while savouring meals. The restaurants categorised as five stars by Egypt’s standard, offer a special nightlife experience. All of them entertain their guests with more than just a sumptuous dinner. The dinner granted the customers a splendid way to see the Nile and city skyline at its best. These cruisers float for two hours and availed those on board the opportunity of star-gazing along the Nile banks.

Another aspect of Cairo’s night life is the Al-Tannoura show which takes place at Wikalet Al- Ghoury every Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. Wikalet Al-Ghoury is a 16 century architecturally stunning arts center near the Al-Azhar University in central Cairo. It is being operated by the Egypt’s Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Development Fund (CDF). It has become the centre for organising cultural events since its final restorations to the Wikalet in October 2005. The centre is now synonymous with Al-Tannoura dance performance, a performance similar to the more commonly known whirling dervishes.

Al-Tannoura’s version, however, incorporates instruments and other additional elements. The Sufi dancers leave their audience gazing in amazement at how the musicians’ fingers move so fast, and how the whirlers don’t drop down in a dizzied frenzy.

This reporter counted how one of the leading dancers whirled for 39 minutes non-stop. The enthralling performance begins on a subtle note, with two teams of musicians poised on the stage and balcony inside the Al-Ghoury courtyard. Each musician gets a chance to display their talents and solos prevail as the show continues. The audience most times become speechless watching a dancer tickling a tabla, or enthusiastically turning zills into instruments in their own right against their usual use as decorative accessories for belly dancers.

Then come the dancers, who usually wear traditional white Sufi skirts before changing into the brilliantly coloured pieced tapestries with Islamic inscriptions in which they twirl, twirl, twirl, and twirl. Lifting the skirts up at various angles, it’s simply amazing that they can go on for so long, and with such heavy multiple layers.

When the show comes to a close after the several acts and costume changes, the spinning intensifies before the musicians come back on stage for their final farewell. The audience chorused a very loud praise as the dancers take turns to vow in a spiralling manner and in a blending concerto with the flutists, the drummers and the leading orchestra. While the floating dinners end their cruising and Sufi dancers end their performance, families who have gone out picnic would be readying for home while shisha joints and football viewing centres are rounding up for the day. Cairo’s nightlife is, indeed, alive.

Source : Daily Trust