wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy  Privacy
IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08CAIRO2266 2008-10-28 13:46:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
Cable title:  

THE VIEW FROM THE AHWA: THE TALK OF TOWN IN

Tags:   PREL KDEM SOCI SCUL PGOV ECON PHUM KISL EG 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO6680
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #2266/01 3021346
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 281346Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0732
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 002266 

SIPDIS

NSC FOR PASCUAL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/26/2018
TAGS: PREL KDEM SOCI SCUL PGOV ECON PHUM KISL EG
SUBJECT: THE VIEW FROM THE AHWA: THE TALK OF TOWN IN
CAIRO'S MYRIAD CAFES

Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs
William R. Stewart, for reason 1.4 (d).



1. (SBU) Summary: Despite ubiquitous complaining about life's
difficulties, and justified laments about pervasive
corruption and the widely loathed Mubarak government, the
denizens of Cairo's famed coffeehouses seem satisfied merely
to grouse about their grievances, with no thought of taking
any political action to address them. Our recent sojourns
among cafes in Cairo's lower-income neighborhoods reinforced
that economic struggles, corrosive corruption, and political
frustration and malaise remain endemic among Egyptians, with
no apparent end in sight. End summary.



2. (U) Although Cairo is known as "The City of a Thousand
Minarets," there is one institution more omnipresent than the
mosques this teeming city is famous for - the coffeehouse, or
"ahwa." Conventional wisdom estimates one coffeehouse per
every 200 Cairenes, which comes out to roughly 90,000 cafes
in this metropolis of 18 million. For the most part, these
are male-only preserves, and at any time of the day, in every
neighborhood of Cairo, one can observe men of all ages and
classes puffing away on water pipes, perusing newspaper
headlines, gossiping about the latest political developments
or neighborhood scandals, and listlessly watching TV. The
blinking TV sets in ahwas are invariably turned to either a
soccer game, Arab satellite news programs, a televangelist,
or (more infrequently) a soap opera, with patrons often
offering running commentary on all programming.



3. (C) As ahwas are such a Cairo fixture, and the talk in the
cafes serves as a reasonable, albeit unscientific, measure of
what issues are uppermost in the minds of Cairenes, we
recently toured several ahwas in a range of low-income
neighborhoods, in an effort to get a sense of what Egypt's
urban residents are thinking. We spoke with a range of poor
and lower-middle class Egyptians (exclusively male), from
factory workers to college students, young military recruits
brought from the countryside to Cairo to do their mandatory
army service, high-school teachers, bus drivers, small shop
owners, and restaurant workers. We heard a constant
complaining refrain from everyone we spoke with about Egypt's
rising prices, and the struggles of families to put food on
the table and pay their bills. (Note: In August, year-on-year
overall inflation was 23.6 percent, and at 30.9 percent for
food and drink. Due to the recent decline in international
commodity prices, we speculate that inflation will slow. End
note). Inhaling the cheap tobacco smoke (cost per water-pipe
session averages 1 Egyptian pound, or 20 U.S. cents), several
fellow cafe-goers lamented that they could only afford to
feed their children one meal a day.



4. (C) A parallel theme of discussion was the corruption
endemic to Egypt. Frustrated shop owners regaled us with
tales of police shakedowns and "protection" rackets, and a
bus driver spoke of being often stopped by the traffic police
for imagined infractions, for which he needs to pay-off the
policeman, in order to avoid receiving a formal ticket with a
larger fine. One military recruit told us about having to
pay-off doctors at a military hospital in order to receive
emergency medical care for an injury. An angry father related
the difficulty of getting his children an education in tough
economic times: "The classes at their schools have hundreds
of students in them, so they do not learn anything. In order
for them to pass their exams, I need to hire private tutors,
who incidentally, are the same teachers who will ultimately
give the exams. I need to pay the teachers to "teach" my
children, so that they will let them pass at the end of the
year. I spend 500 LE (approximately 90 USD) every month on
this. My monthly salary is 1000 LE. How am I supposed to
continue doing this?"



5. (C) While we heard much grousing about the Egyptian
government, including pointed critiques of President Mubarak
and his son Gamal, there was no indication that anyone had
plans to do anything but complain. We picked up no hint of
revolutionary fervor; no hushed whispers expressing
admiration for an opposition figure or advocating any actual
political change, or calling for a resort to violence.
Egyptians are frustrated and embittered, but still seem
characteristically quiescent and passive, willing to sit on
the sidelines in a cafe and list the failings of the
government, but not to attempt to do anything about it. Many
of our smoking partners said they were "hopeless" about
politics in Egypt - "there will never be any change" was a
constant refrain, and several people told us cynical jokes
with punch lines about how Mubarak will never die. When
queried about his views on the political opposition, one
smoker snorted derisively and asked, "What opposition? There
is no such thing here." When asked if he viewed the popular

CAIRO 00002266 002 OF 002


Muslim Brotherhood with as much disdain as political
opposition parties, our conversation partner observed that
the MB's charity work was commendable, "but there is no
chance that they will take power, as they will never be
allowed to do so by the government. So what is the point of
them going to jail, ruining their lives trying to achieve an
unattainable goal?"



6. (C) As notable as our conversation partners' disdain for
the Mubarak government, was their lack of fear in expressing
their opinions. There was no careful glance over the shoulder
before discoursing to a foreigner about one's dislike of the
regime, no murmured comments but rather, loud, sarcastic
critiques of the government which often, many neighboring
tables joined in on. Overall, our smoking sojourns
reinforced that economic struggles, corrosive corruption, and
political frustration and malaise remain endemic among
Egyptians, with no apparent end in sight.

SCOBEY