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Sample of Cairo Downtown ambiance

Vincent Battesti

At first, it is a distant murmur melted in the confused hum of the traffic. The acoustic level does not increase for such a small thing; the random-like symphony of horns is going on. However, it is this sort of signal with no misunderstanding about it. All heads in this upper part of Talaat Harb Street turn to the source of this murmur. A fellow runs quickly from a sidewalk to the other one, crosses the street through the perpetual traffic jam, forces his way through the crowd, but not quickly enough. There were four or five other guys running after him. Now, as by magic, they are twenty, swiftly fifty men overtaking him.

As soon as the fellow is caught, a masculine crowd surrounds him, slates him, and starts to mistreat him. The more external persons of the circle push themselves as a centripetal force. They do not even know what is happen in the inner part of the circle, and do not know why the runaway disserves that: they push, actually for these reasons. They want to know and before knowing what, should the occasion arise, they can help other peoples the answer: “harāmī!” (a thief!)

At this stage, the entire street is aware of the “incident”, and more and more people arrive to intervene, to form, and to express their opinion. At this point, teenagers whistle at their peers: they gather, even run to literally jump on the circle. The point for them is just adding ambiance, and having fun of this opportunity. In the inner circle, the person at fault still makes useless attempts to extricate him from the situation. Some people seem more concerned by the dispute and do not want to drop the shirt of the so-called thief. Others try to calm down the whole situation: a part of them tries to separate the belligerents taking the thief aside, the other part tries to cheer the likely victim, by kissing him, seizing him round the waist, showering him with “maalesh” (“doesn’t matter”). The whole circle, a dense pack of gesticulating bodies, moves by its own force of inertia during two, three long minutes, slipping from the sidewalk to the middle of the street (paralyzing definitively the traffic).

Suddenly, two policemen in uniform and one in plain clothes (appearing from nowhere) split the mob, and collar the fellow (who is at that time half sheepish half protesting his innocence). The police officers take him away with the authority of their duties, followed by a crowd, which will scatter slowly, with some few guys still trying to kick or punch the (now) prisoner. They pass by other policemen, who have not give a slight move to intervene in the street dispute, but a smile for the situation (they are responsible of the traffic only). (September 2004, Downtown Cairo, 21:00 pm)

Collective reaction for a lonely deviant behavior.
Involvement of the bodies of a large body of people before the forces of the law and order. Has this sort of scene always taken place in Wast el-Balad (Downtown) of Cairo? Is it a chic attitude for a chic district?


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Vincent Battesti , "Sample of Cairo Downtown ambiance " (online), Anthropoasis |, page published 17 July 2006 (consulted 29 May 2024), available on: