Revolutionary Coffee: Cairo's Coffeehouses, 1890 - 1919

Feb 23, 2017
05:00 PM to 06:00 PM
102 Weaver

Alon Tam, University of Pennsylvania

Nineteenth and twentieth-century coffeehouses in Cairo functioned as a hub for politicians, revolutionaries, intellectuals, writers, middle- and upper-class men and women, workers, immigrants, and people from different ethnic, racial, and religious communities. Friends and acquaintances met in the coffeehouse as part of their daily routine to talk about their private lives, but also public affairs. Intellectuals debated literature, philosophy, and society.  Students discussed politics, and planned action.  Indeed, coffeehouses were a social, political, and cultural institution in Egypt, one that bore the impact of sweeping processes of change occurring within Egyptian society, including Westernization, economic globalization, modernization, and reform.  

Drawing on an array of archival sources, such as Egyptian secret police and informants' reports, or British Military Intelligence ones, this presentation will trace how Cairo's coffeehouses became a space for articulating public opinion, a process that culminated in them serving as a hub for revolutionary activity during the year-long series of anti-British strikes and mass demonstrations, known to Egyptians as the 1919 Revolution.  Alon Tam will also show how certain coffeehouses became a meeting-place for the emerging middle class know as the effendiya, as part of a greater class hierarchy of coffeehouses, and how it used those coffeehouses for activism, as it became more engaged with the nascent nationalist and anti-colonial movement.  Thus, he will argue that Cairo's coffeehouses had a pivotal role in the network of urban places, which gave birth to the effendiya.

Alon Tam is an expert on social and cultural history of the Middle East and North Africa.  He is writing his PhD thesis at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, at the University of Pennsylvania, on Cairo's coffeehouses between the 1880s and the 1940s.

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