In This Review

The Egyptian Coffeehouse: Culture, Politics, and Urban Space
The Egyptian Coffeehouse: Culture, Politics, and Urban Space
By Dalia Said Mostafa and Amina Elbendary
I.B. Tauris, 2020, 192 pp

The appearance of the coffeehouse in the Middle East in the late Middle Ages appears to have coincided with, and probably fostered, the development of Arab folk epics, such as The Thousand and One Nights. Regular patrons eagerly anticipated the storyteller’s next installment, much as readers of popular magazines in Victorian England consumed famous serialized novels. Since then, Cairo’s cafés have continued to be gathering places for the cultural elite of the day, much like their Parisian counterparts, often serving particular literary coteries and political cliques, as this lively and provocative volume illustrates. Today, as testimonies from a variety of contemporary coffeehouse patrons show, Egyptians of many ages and classes find solace, refuge, conviviality, and job leads at the local café. Everyday political and social change also takes place in the café: since the uprising of 2011, many more coffeehouses welcome women. Starbucks and local chains such as Beano’s may prevail in Cairo’s suburban malls, but they will never beat the wooden chairs, uneven floor, and tiny glasses at Fishawi’s for debating last night’s soccer match—or government decree—with friends.