A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 2, 2015

Apparently Cairo's Famous Cafe Riche Has Reopened

Photo: https://www.facebook.com/Cafe-Richeeg-175557732650867/?fref=ts
I've posted about Cairo's famous Cafe Riche more than once, last spring when the owner's death led to its closure, perhaps permanently, and a discussion back in 2011 as to whether today's Riche was living off its historical reputation as opposed to the genuinely authentic place I frequented in the 70s and 80s.

It's now reported that the Riche has reopened, under the late owner's brother. That's good news for Cairo nostalgia fans, and the mandatory interview with Felfel, a waiter now said to be in his 80s; the article calls him Aam Felfel, so I'm pleased to learn he's now acquired the venerable appellation of "Uncle" in the 30 years or so since I saw him almost daily; I hope a raise or two came with it.

My earlier postings on the Riche dealt with its legendary past, and when I lived in downtown Cairo in 1977-1978  I was a patron almost daily, and again on periodic visits throughout the 1980s. The 1992 earthquake severely damaged the cafe and it was closed for several years.

One passage in the  Al-Monitor article did give me pause:
Café Riche’s vibrant political history led to its closure during the rule of Anwar al-Sadat. Although the late president was himself a patron of the café, he had it closed after he witnessed heated discussion and debates over his rule and the peace treaty with Israel taking place within its walls.
I question the accuracy here because  I know it was open in 1977-1978 and that it was also open when I returned to Cairo only two weeks after the Sadat assassination in October 1981. (And Anwar Sadat, a most imperially aloof President, would not have "witnessed" those discussions; his mukhabarat would have.) After some sanity checks, I believe if Sadat ever closed the Riche entirely it must have been in 1979 and fairly brief, but that government pressure may have already led to the Riche closing on Fridays, which was already standard practice in 1977 even before Sadat went to Jerusalem.(Naguib Mahfouz' translator/biographer Raymond Stock suggests to me this was to shut down Mahfouz' regular Friday nadwa or salon, which then moved elsewhere.)

Even if the Riche is still dining out on its onetime reputation, it's good to hear that it has reopened.
Photo: https://www.facebook.com/Cafe-Richeeg-175557732650867/?fref=ts

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