For Zeinab Nadren, the founder of ‘We are Different Egypt’, Cairo’s first Korean pop culture (K-Pop) shop , one of the main services provided is a small judgment free space where young women can gather and celebrate their love of Korean music and soap opera stars.
The tiny shop is lined with goods such key chains, bracelets, posters displaying singers and boy bands like as Super Junior and EXO-L, as well as heart throb talent Jae Joong. Some of the trinkets and paraphernalia Nadren and her co-owners, sister Huda and Toka Ayman, have crafted themselves.
As K-Pop has exploded worldwide and gained a small but growing following in Egypt, many Egyptians, especially the older generation, find the phenomenon somewhat strange and unacceptable, according to the entrepreneurs who are in their early twenties.
Before the shop opened, the trio held K-Pop parties at cafes and restaurants, where staff and patrons ended up thinking their activities were inappropriate for young Egyptian women. “They kicked us out,” said Nadren.
She added that many of the girls who buy posters at her shop go to great lengths to hide their purchases, citing one incident where a girl’s father, upon finding her collection of pictures and images, logged into her Facebook account, went to the fan page she was a part of and demanded to know of the online community what they were doing.
However innocent the hobby “’It’s not good for girls’ a lot of parents say. ‘You should stick to normal things’,” Nadren continued that Egyptian parents have voiced opposition “because it’s something they don’t understand”.
Nadren admitted herself that when a Facebook friend back in 2008 sent her a music video, she at first had thought it was “very weird”, but soon became addicted as her sister introduced her to a Korean television station. She, like other fans of the current subculture, even began studying Korean language. She even mentioned that the Korean Embassy now hosts an annual K-Pop festival that grows in size every year.
As alien as K-Pop is for many Egyptians, “there are strong similarities between Korean culture and Arabic culture”, such as “how to raise your children and how you treat older people and younger people”, said Nadren, referring to popular television series that captivate both men and women.
The television shows such as ‘Kill Me Heal Me’ about a young man suffering from multiple personality disorder have also provided an escape for young Egyptians from the daily problems they see on television such as terrorist bombings and the ongoing political troubles.
The idea for the shop, which opened in December 2014, arrived after the founders were very successful at selling products on their Facebook page and near metro stations, as well as meeting other Egyptian women who became equally excited about their shared interest.
Part of the attraction was that Korean media was both unlike their western and Arabic counterparts. Nadren said “it’s very different and very fun”.
‘We Are Different Egypt’ is located in the Dokki area of Giza in El-Tahrir Mall on Ali Esmail Street just off of El-Messaha Square.