“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

How Cairo Became a Cosmopolitan Destination in the 1920s

Posted: March 28th, 2021 | No Comments »

A while back i was sent a proof copy of Raphael Cormack’s Midnight in Cairo. A fascinating book that looks at the cosmopolitan nightlife scene of interwar Cairo. There are a lot of obvious parallels to other somewhat international and cosmopolitan cities of the era – Istanbul, Tangier and, of course, Shanghai. I was certainly more than happy to blurb it and recommend it to everyone interested in this period and world. Cormack talk a little bit about Cairo and its demi-monde here to get a flavour.

One of the world’s most multicultural cities, twentieth-century Cairo was a magnet for the ambitious and talented. During the 1920s and ’30s, a vibrant music, theater, film, and cabaret scene flourished, defining what it meant to be a “modern” Egyptian. Women came to dominate the Egyptian entertainment industry―as stars of the stage and screen but also as impresarias, entrepreneurs, owners, and promoters of a new and strikingly modern entertainment industry.

Raphael Cormack unveils the rich histories of independent, enterprising women like vaudeville star Rose al-Youssef (who launched one of Cairo’s most important newspapers); nightclub singer Mounira al-Mahdiyya (the first woman to lead an Egyptian theater company) and her great rival, Oum Kalthoum (still venerated for her soulful lyrics); and other fabulous female stars of the interwar period, a time marked by excess and unheard-of freedom of expression. Buffeted by crosswinds of colonialism and nationalism, conservatism and liberalism, “religious” and “secular” values, patriarchy and feminism, this new generation of celebrities offered a new vision for women in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

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