I’m pretty well acquainted with the nasty effects of European imperialism in the Middle East. I despise the divide-and-conquer strategy, the cooption of local elites, the imposition of “modern” values on colonized populations. I spent a lot of time studying all this at Oberlin. And my academic work left me with a particular distaste for the British Empire, which always seemed to me like the worst aggressor of all. So I feel a little weird about how much I love (some of) the legacies of colonialism here in Egypt.
There are a lot of places in this city that feel like some version of mid-twentieth century Europe that has since been abandoned. I started writing this blog post in the bar at the Windsor Hotel, which used to be a club for British officers when that empire ruled Egypt. The bar is full of dark wooden furniture, dim lighting, animal horns. It’s a beautiful spot that feels full of history.
There are a lot of places like the Windsor in this city. I went to a great coffee shop called Simond’s in Zamalek the other day with marble countertops and baristas in classic white uniforms. (Zamalek, in case you don’t know, is a leafy, upscale neighborhood situated on an island in the middle of the Nile. Very popular with expats and foreigners.) Downtown has its fair share of similar spots. And everywhere in the city center are apartment buildings that look straight out of Paris.
It is, quite simply, very cool. I can go to places here in Cairo that feel more European than anywhere I’d go in Europe. I’d absolutely love it if it didn’t, you know, remind me of colonialism.