In Cairo’s chic clubs, Egypt’s youth protest to a beat


Egypt’s deep political crisis is not only playing out in street protests, it is pushing its way into all social settings -- including the high-decibel clubland of Cairo’s privileged youth.

In one of the night spots, the Nile Maxim, on a ship moored on an island in the center of the capital, cocktail-sipping patrons loudly voiced their opposition to their Islamist president, who they fear is intent on curbing their cosmopolitan, Western-inspired lives.

“Of course I am going to protest” against President Mohamed Mursi, one 23-year-old employee in Egypt's vibrant movie industry, Ines, told AFP above a thumping dance track.

“With (ousted leader Hosni) Mubarak, we saw we can change things. We’re no longer afraid,” she said.

“We have always resisted, whether against the army or against the Islamists, We will continue to do so,” she said in accentless French learned from her childhood spent in the city’s elite French school.

The view from the three-deck club was a world away from the televised images of Egypt’s poorer youth exchanging rock throws and blows in squares and in front of the presidential palace.

The lights of Cairo glittered through the smoked windows while the club’s beams and strobes snapped the expensively dressed clientele dancing or scoffing drinks sold at European prices.

One night in the Nile Maxim can easily cost the equivalent of the average $60 per week earned by ordinary Egyptians.

For the cosmopolitan, educated clubgoers inside, there was no question of the Islamists supporting Mursi being allowed to roll back their jetset pursuits through a new draft constitution being put to referendum on Saturday.

“I’d say 90 percent of the constitution doesn’t pose any problem. It’s the other 10 percent that is really worrying,” said Ali el-Shalaqani, a young lawyer sporting a three-day beard and a soft leather jacket.

“There is no mention anywhere of social justice. But more than anything, the constitution will let Sharia (fundamentalist Islamic law) have more sway over society,” he said.

Like many of his class and generation, Shalaqani took to the streets early last year as part of the uprising that toppled Mubarak.

Today, he maintains his rebel inclinations, this time on the side of those opposing Muris’s Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.

Under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned but tolerated. It only gradually and cautiously joined the 2011 revolt, which was driven by Internet-savvy youths before snowballing.

Mursi won a mandate with 51 percent of the vote in elections in June this year, but part of that support came from liberals who simply sought to block his chief rival, Mubarak’s former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq, from winning.

Now those same liberals are ranged against Muri’s and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“For me, it’s the United States that annoys me. It wants to create a buffer zone against Iran and the Shiites, so it supports the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood. But I don’t want any part of their geopolitical games,” said Karine, a young Egyptian Christian working for the United Nations in Cairo.

The organizer of the club’s night, Moez Annabi, flits between the bar and DJ stand in his Pink Floyd T-shirt.

“We’re not full tonight because it’s Monday and people are tired. They are keeping energy for the demonstration” on Tuesday called by the opposition against the referendum, he said.

Annabi said heated discussions he has had with ultra-orthodox Salafists in the Islamist camp had hardened his opposition.

“They think they are the people ordained by God, they say ‘You, you don’t understand anything’,” he said.

“You see all this, all these people, this music? I’m afraid that with the Islamists all this will soon be just a memory.”