A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's the 98th Anniversary of the "Battle" of the Wasa‘a

Today, April 2, marks the 98th anniversary of a forgotten landmark in Cairo history, the "Battle of the Wasa‘a," or as the Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) troops who constituted one side in the battle pronounced it, "the Wozzer." The other side in this poorly-remembered battle in the First World War were the denizens of the houses of the Red Light District in the Egyptian capital. The ladies of negotiable virtue and their madams and pimps became the targets of the Aussie and Kiwi troops preparing to ship out. Just 23 days later they landed at Gallipoli.
After the "Battle"

In 2011 I wrote a rather lengthy historical account,  "Historical Discursus for April 2: The First Battle of the Wasa‘a or Wozzer," which went into considerable detail about legal prostitution in Cairo, the Red Light district during the Great War, and the background and details (some of which are a little fuzzy) of the "battle." I refer you to that longer article if you haven't read it. The area where it occurred is a pretty quiet area today, though increasingly encroached upon by flyover highways. The last ANZAC vet died in 2002 and the legendary "battle" has faded into oblivion. At a time when Cairo is more puritanical than ever, the days when pitched battles between soldiers and the proprietors and patrons of whorehouses could lead to riots and fires seem remote indeed, and they are. But it's also a reminder that the excessive puritanism of the present day was not always present (though many of the inhabitants of the district were not Egyptian but European, Sudanese, etc.) The costs were high: the venereal disease rates among British and ANZAC soldiers soared in a pre-penicillin age, despite alleged health monitoring of the houses, at least the legal ones. But it was a moment the soldiers remembered, at least to each other, and a piece of the story of the tragedy of Gallipoli as well.

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