Egypt coffeehouses brew trouble with racy dishes

Enterprising coffeehouse owners in Egypt’s Mediterranean port city of Damietta thought they were onto a hot new moneymaking entertainment gimmick — racy European satellite TV served up along with the coffee, water pipes (hookahs) and other house specialties.

The fledgling cafe showbiz entrepreneurs were reportedly charging customers five Egyptian pounds (about $ 1.50) over and above the cost of refreshments for an evening’s viewing of whatever hot items were coming over their dishes, and the entertainment often would continue until the wee hours.

Until, that is, Damietta governor Abdel-Rabim Nafei stepped in to thwart their enterprise.

The governor complained that the cafes were showing “large doses” of sex and violence from outer space, which were “incompatible with our religious values”– and what’s more, having a harmful effect on the city’s economy.

Factory workers, Nafei said, were turning up on the job late or tired after their long nights in front of the coffeehouse tubes. The main industry of Damietta (population about 20,000) is the manufacture of furniture, which is widely exported.

The guv ordered the city vice squad to confiscate the cafe dishes, and squad commander Col. Mohammed Ghazawy announced that about 25 dishes were seized in police swoops.

The guv’s dish-dashing decree was denounced as “high-handed” by the Egyptian national press — and of dubious legality to boot, because dishes had been approved for private ownership by an act of Parliament in 1990.

Nafei’s reply was that the cafes weren’t licensed as entertainment venues and therefore had no right to charge admission for the sat shows. He stressed that the order did not apply to homes or private clubs.

The evident popularity of the (former) coffeehouse showplaces would seem to reflect a severe shortage of decent entertainment facilities in many provincial Egyptian cities, as well as dissatisfaction with programming on the country’s state-run TV channels.

In most provincial cities, cinemas are small, dilapidated and unsuitable for family entertainment outings. One Cairo newspaper said that the Damietta sat affair ought to be taken as a warning to the government TV stations to improve their own programming or risk seeing an ever-dwindling audience as sat dishes become increasingly affordable to the public.

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