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Coffee, Islamist-style

Adel Heine's weekly column

Adel HeineThe news in the past week has been filled with stories about a coffee shop in Nasr City that specifically caters to an Islamist clientele. The coffee shop offers all the lattes, cappuccinos and other overpriced, popular, caffeinated hot drinks that all the other ubiquitous chains carry, but applies some rules that set it apart from your regular Road 9 roastery.

Women who are unaccompanied by men have a separate area of seating, while single men, married couples and families fill the rest of the space. It is unclear to me how the staff establishes if a couple is married and are allowed to sit together; do they ask for a marriage license while taking an order for shay-be-laban? And do they have female waitresses that work in the women’s section? With a female shift manager, manager, all the way up the ladder of the company.

On the other hand, maybe it is fair to expect that those who choose this coffee shop over one of the other copycat chains do so because of a principle that they are not likely to betray by lying about their marital status. Otherwise Starbucks and its bad coffee would do the trick.

The cafe offers free Wifi, so tablets, iPads and laptops abound, but plays no music, since some of the patrons consider music to be forbidden to the faithful. Another rule that immediately inspires questions; do the waiters lean, respectfully of course, over shoulders to see if illicit Youtube-checking is going on? What happens if that irritating tune that has been stuck in your head for three days makes you hum under your breath without noticing?

Contrary to what the all media attention might have you believe, the coffee shop is not new nor is it the first one of its kind, remember the female only ahwa? And let’s not kid ourselves, many of the country’s venues are effectively segregated in one way or another but the rules are understood rather than announced to the public at large.

The summer compounds in Sahel that fill up every year with the select few who can afford it and resort towns like El Gouna where the A-list have their second homes can only be entered through well guarded gates where security men will ask you your business before contemplating letting you in. White faces get easy access, I can tell you from experience, but Egyptians may have a harder time, depending on the car they drive. Anything down from a Beemer or one of those cool new Jeeps will result in endless questions, all designed to keep the riffraff out of the reality of the rich.

As a European I am invited to partake in the upper levels of society when it comes to parties and events; everyone likes to have a few token white people around it seems. The rigorous vetting process of “who is your father” and “what does your family do” that is applied to locals is completely disregarded when it comes to me; nobody cares as long as I know how to behave reasonably well and can handle the salad fork at a sit down dinner. There are still lines that cannot be crossed though; I am not supposed to marry a family member.

Exclusion and segregation exist in every society, be it on gender, religion or race. Differences and separations between those of different opinion is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we are all free to make up our minds as to what it is we want.

Freedom breeds diversity, something the self proclaimed liberals of the country would do well to remember before they start protesting against the people who want to have their coffee, Islamist-style.

Drink and let drink I say, that is what freedom is all about.

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