Live From the Hotel Longchamps
Days Fifteen and Sixteen
by Jimmy Dun
Today started out with a bang. I noticed Stephen Harvey on the Terrace of the Longchamps and, since both of us have busy schedules, we decided to conduct an interview right then and there. I've got to say that Stephen is a great guy, open and friendly and a pleasure to know. We talked about a number of topics, including his excavations at Abydos, but unfortunately it will take some time to transcribe our interview. Look for it in the next few days.
Today, of course, is Sunday and therefore I decided to attend a church service. Many people traveling to Egypt take religious tours due to Egypt's biblical connections and the large number of ancient churches and monasteries. In fact, the Egyptian government has encouraged these types of tours by developing tourism around the route of the Holy Family in Egypt. Hence, it is also likely that many of these tourists might enjoy visiting a modern church service in Egypt and perhaps even visit with local Christians. We have written many articles about ancient Coptic monasteries and churches, and about the Copts and their religion, which is an orthodox church. However, I have never written much about the protestants in Egypt, so today I decided to attend such a service.
Protestants are certainly a minority in Egypt, but one that is growing. Only a few years ago, the Catholics probably outnumbered the protestants, but that has apparently changed. Today, protestants in Egypt make up perhaps as much as 30% of the Christian, though of course the Copts make up much of the remainder of Egyptian Christians.
There are a number of different denominations of protestants in Egypt, including Baptists, Methodists, Church of Christ and even independents, but perhaps the majority of protestants are Anglican. This is no surprise, considering that the English ruled Egypt for some period of time and it was then that the protestant movement developed in Egypt.
I was actually invited to visit the church by a protestant friend and colleague who, besides being the person in Cairo who manages this end of the Virtual Khan el-Khalili, is also a deacon in one of the Anglican churches. Obviously this was very useful in my exploration.
However, I was also curious to find out if the tensions sometimes reported in Western news sources about problems between the Christians and Muslims were really true. Frankly, though there have been occasional reports of problems in rural areas, he assured me that this was indeed rare and nonexistent in urban Egypt. In fact, he explained that the head of the Anglican church, Dr. Saswat el-Byade, has a very good relationship with the Egyptian Government and that the Christians and Muslims live in peace in Egypt. There is no tension between the two, and in fact, the very rare reports of rural difficulties are really usually related to other issues such as land rights and actually have little if anything to do with religious backgrounds.
I visited two churches this morning. Unfortunately, the morning services are generally the least attended, while the churches I am told are usually packed at afternoon services. The first was the Shoubra Anglican Church in the Shoubra district of Cario, but unfortunately, by the time we arrived at this church, the service was just ending. This area of Cairo has many churches and a dense population of Christians. I did have a chance to meet the pastor, Shameh Nageub, and a few of the worshipers in this church. I learned that the services and worship is very similar to Anglican churches elsewhere in the world. There is much singing which, unlike the Coptic Church, is accompanied by a variety of musical instruments, including pianos, organs, and even guitars and drums. Then there is, of course, a sermon. Actually, all very familiar by western standards, including the songs. I was able to explore this 100 year old church visiting the rooms where Sunday school lessons are taught.
Entrance to the Kaser el-Doubara Anglican Church
We then headed to Egypt's largest single Anglican Church located downtown. Of similar age to the previous church, this one is known as Kaser el-Doubara. It holds many services on Sunday, so as we arrived one was taking place. Today, the pastor was a guest, Dr. Mofed Said, who I am told is one of the best known Anglican pastors in the Middle East. For tourists, this would be perhaps the best church to attend. It is within walking distance of the Nile Hilton, and in the last few seats of the church are headphones where the sermon is translated into English.
As a Christian, I did enjoy the experience and the people were, of course, very friendly and welcoming.
As I have said in early reports, at least a part of this visit was made to work on various issues related to our on-line store, the Virtual Khan el-Khalili, including looking for new and unusual products. Hence, as I walk about the city, I poke my head in here or there, and mostly then move on. However, yesterday I visited a shop named Alef at 14, Mohamed Anis Street in Zamalek and was very taken with its collection of items, mostly made in its own small workshops. This would be considered a home decor shop, but rather than furniture, most of the displays were of smaller items that could be carried home from a tour of Egypt. I would have loved to have included many of these beautiful items in the Virtual Khan, but unfortunately all were hand made and none are apparently reproduced. Perhaps one day we might carry unique items such as this, but it is difficult in a catalog setting.
What separates the great shops such as this from others is, of course, the tastes and artistic attributes of the owner. However, in Egypt, there are other factors as well. For example, many of the items in this shop are made of hand blown glass, just as many items are made in the Khan el-Khalili market. However, while those in the Khan el-Khalili must be made in a minimum time and affordable as trinkets for tourists, the merchandise at Alef is clearly made by discriminating artists who take their time in creating exquisite pieces of fine glassware, as well as items of other materials.
I should also note that the Owner spoke English very well, and was most helpful as I wondered about her shop. Yesterday, and actually the day before, I visited a number of shops in Cairo. These included a number of antique shops around Zamalek and I had intended on writing an article based on a number of these, but alas, most offer very similar antiquities. Almost all have predominantly French antiques from the early 20th Century. At one point I thought that this was perhaps due to the lingering number of French in Cairo, but was told otherwise. Actually, most of these antiques come from Egyptians themselves, who favor, and sometimes continue to favor French designs.
I have to admit that as a writer, I encountered a bit of snobbery at some shops, while at a few others, there was no one who could speak English. The snobbery came as a surprise, as it is so untypical of Egypt, and rarely do I walk into shops in Zamalek where English is not spoken. Actually, when foreigners come together in Egypt from different countries and meet with Egyptians, English is typically the common language.
I focused on one shop, The Antique Shop, though I visited many, and many are worth visiting, but this one was very friendly and had excellent examples of what is typical in these shops. The shop is located at 11 Ahmed Heshmat Street in Zamalek. Though the manager was not fluent in English, our communications was adequate and she was very friendly and helpful.
In fact, the real problem with antiques of this period lies on my end. I am not an expert. Typically, many of the antiques start out in a price range of perhaps as much as $500, though this could certainly very between shops and individual items. I must admit that I was somewhat taken back by the price of even a small box, but given my lack of expertise, it may have been a bargain and alas, I would not know. In this particular case, I never tried to negotiate, which may have been an option.
What is certain is that, for those interested in French period antiques, the shops about Zamalek are well stocked, and one runs across other items occasionally such as British antiques, which may in fact be older.
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Last Updated: June 14th, 2011