Cairo and Constant Change
If you are looking for Egyptian antiques in Cairo – and by antique I mean something from around fifty or one hundred years ago, not something from King Ramses’ bedstand in 1292 B.C. – you can find some among the shops like the one above at the Khan el-Khalili bazaar.
Egypt has experienced dramatic change in 2011, change that has been well documented and seen around the world. But a peek into a Cairo antique shop is a reminder that at every moment less dramatic change occurs too, in Cairo and every other city. How we make phone calls, how we play music, the way companies advertise their products – these things change. And so sometimes do the kinds of people who walk the streets. If Cairo in 2011 is not the same as Cairo in 2010, imagine what Cairo eighty years ago would have been like. For help in imagining this, here is a paragraph from Max Rodenbeck’s book Cairo: The City Victorious:
Cairo no longer aspired to be cosmopolitan; it already was. According to the 1927 census a fifth of its people belonged to minorities: there were 95,000 Copts, 35,000 Jews, 20,000 Greeks, 19,000 Italians, 11,000 British, 9,000 French, and uncounted numbers of White Russians, Parsees, Montenegrins, and other exotica. (By contrast, all colonial India in 1930 was home to just 115,000 people classified as “whites.”) The city’s population surged past 1 million in the 1930s as landless peasants began to arrive in significant numbers, along with a rich clutter of Europeans fleeing Hitler. Thirty thousand cars jammed streets where sleek apartment buildings pushed ever higher. Billboards touted a range of Cairo-made goods: “Shelltox—The Insect Executioner”; “Exigez les Eaux Gazeuses N. Spathis!”; Dr. Boustani’s Cigarettes; Bata shoes; and movies shot in Cairo studios, such as Layla, Girl of the Desert, a costume drama starring Bahiga Hafiz.