Dozens of wrinkled Egyptian men sip tea, draw smoke from water pipes and boisterously chat in Arabic. They lounge at a bustling alleyway cafe, sandwiched between the labyrinths of crumbling apartment buildings in the heart of Cairo, adjacent to Tahrir Square.
Just footsteps away, the maniacal spectacle of Cairo traffic is at work. Rusty cars whir by, lurching left and right, an orchestra of horns trumpeting their arrival and departure from one traffic light to the next. There’s no time for signalling. Exhaust fumes hang thick in the air. Around each corner, there is singing, squawking, screaming.
This is both the doorstep to the Middle East, the corridor to North Africa, the launchpad of revolutions that reverberated worldwide, and the home of more than nine million Egyptians. But despite the beautiful chaos, Egypt is actually drought-stricken when it comes to visitors.
That reality is more visible, just a few blocks away, towards the banks of the River Nile. The marble-encrusted lobbies of Cairo’s many luxury hotels overlooking the Nile, once bustling with globetrotting tourists from every corner of the earth, are now silent.