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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Farewell to The El Gandoul Nightclub
on El Haram Street


By Priscilla Adum





In July 2011, the El Gandoul nightclub on El Haram Street (Pyramid Street) in Giza, Egypt was demolished.

El Gandoul was Safiya Helmi's club. Safiya Helmi was a dancer who got her start at Badia Masabni's club and then went on to purchase the Casino Opera which had been severely damaged in the 1952 Cairo fires. Safiya continued to run it for several years in addition to her other clubs.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: It shows the Casino Opera burning in 1952.

Safiya also opened the El Gandoul club which was still functioning up until the revolution of this year. It was managed by Safiya's relatives who inherited the club after she died. It was her nephew Sherif Abd El Azem who made the decision to have it torn down after meeting with a group of religious leaders who paid him a visit and advised him that the goings on inside this casino were immoral and sinful. They suggested that he might want to look into another line of business and Sherif Abd El Azem agreed.

When asked about it afterwards, Abd El Azem said that he was not pressured or forced into making this decision in any way, and that it was his own choice to demolish it. Reportedly, he will build a shopping center on the property.



Pyramid Street, Post-2011 Revolution

The following comments were made by an Egyptian friend of Priscilla's:

In post-Revolution Egypt, the future of the nightclubs on Pyramid Street is uncertain. Egyptians can accept belly dance as an art, and it has long been a part of culture and cinema. Many dancers were highly respected. However the nightclubs along Pyramid Street have long posed certain issues:

  1. They serve alcoholic beverages. Although hotels in Egypt also serve wine, people who drink in hotels remain under control and don't make trouble; whereas the ones who go to drink at Pyramid Street nightclubs usually behave disruptively when they drink too much. These people often believe, "I paid money and therefore I can do what I want."
  2. Many people believe (and often, rightfully so) that many of the women who work in these clubs, whether as singers, dancers or any other type of work, also work in illegal things and they just use the casinos as a front for this.

As a result, the public views these clubs as being responsible for these problems, since the clubs facilitate them.

Now, following the revolution of 2011, it's still not clear what the future of the remaining casinos will be.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Lucy performs in her Pyramid Street club, the Parisiana, in 2004.



Follow-Up to the Above Article

This follow-up is from October 21, 2011.

More and more El Haram street clubs are being bought up by Ragab El Sawerki, a businessman who bought the El Gandoul club, the El Arizona club and the Al Andalous club. Ragab El Sawerki is a strict Islamic Egyptian businessman who owns a chain of department stores all over Cairo called El Tawhed Wi El Nour.

A very interesting article about the current status of the nightclubs on Pyramid Street in Cairo appeared on Monday, October 10, 2011 in El Fagr Newspaper on page 15. The author is Khaled Hanafe.

This picture is a scan of the printed article because El Fagr did not upload this article to their online page. Click on the image to see more detail.

The headline in dark black letters reads, "El Sawerki bought the Night clubs Al Andalous, El Gandoul and El Arizona on El Haram Street." Directly above this headline it says in lighter letters: "The taming of the night club owners began by attacking them during the first days of the January revolution until they surrendered."

The caption under the picture says, "Islamic groups have their sights set on recording companies, film production companies, and tour companies, their objective being to buy them up and bring them to an end."

Article in El Fagr

Here is a brief summary of the body of the article:

"During the days of the revolution, attacks and the destruction of El Haram Street clubs occurred. Among these clubs were the Al Andalous, the Arizona, the El Gandoul and the Europa. Many stores were also attacked and destroyed. By contrast, however, the chain of department stores El Tawhed Wi El Nour were neither destroyed nor attacked. Because of this, The Financial Times newspaper said at the time that Islamic extremists may have been behind the attacks, although the reports in Egypt maintained that it was common thugs and criminals who propagated the attacks.

Regardless of who was behind these attacks, particularly the attacks on the nightclubs, the message to the owners of the nightclubs was clear: "There is no place for you among us any more, either on Pyramid Street or any other place in Egypt."

The night clubs owners reasoned that, "It's bad enough that we are losing money, we don't want to lose our lives too.'' So they opted for safety and closed the clubs down.

The writer of the article then goes on to say, "I had received information that Ragab El Sawerki was in the process of purchasing the Al Andalous, Arizona, and El Gandoul nightclubs. Other information reported that he had already purchased them. Ragab El Sawerki has never made a secret of his extreme Islamic viewpoints in his business dealings, in his work and in his stores, either before the revolution or after it, and he works openly. The danger lies in those Islamic extremists to whom religion is a business and who promote that tourism is forbidden, art is forbidden, songs and music are forbidden, they believe that women must not work at all and should remain at home, and they also teach that banks and stock markets are forbidden, they only want Islamic banks. It would be very dangerous if these people governed us or become a majority in the next parliament because this will make the situation even worse."



As an added note of interest... Ragab El Sawerki enforces strict religious rules in all of his department stores. He does not employ women or Christians. All activity in his stores must stop at prayer times, including customer activity. There is a small mosque in every store and every employee must stop what he is doing and attend prayer at the store mosque. The stores are left under the watchful eye of security guards and door guards while the employees pray.



About the Author

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 




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