Originally published in 2014
Egypt in the 1900s was a different place. Egyptian cinema was the third largest in the world, Cairo was a city that foreigners dreamt of spending their holidays exploring, Egyptian music flourished and shook the world, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together as neighbours, and women had freedoms that were unheard of in many other countries.
Egypt was a place of liberal spirits, unhampered by sectarian and ethnic prejudices. The rights of men, women and children were championed.
Yet, all that has changed, and often may Egyptians forget the Egypt that used to be. Here are 23 photographs of vintage advertisements and other images that will teleport you to Egypt’s ‘golden years’ and show you an Egypt you may have forgotten ever existed.
(These photographs are available thanks to ‘Vintage Egypt. Click here for more)
1. “The Japanese do not respect women.”
This magazine cover of Egyptian actress Shadia in 1961 after a trip to Tokyo has her boldly declaring that Japan does not respect women. A lot has changed: in 2013, Egypt was ranked among the ‘worst places to be a woman.’
2. “Let’s just kiss and play”
Kissing of any kind in Egypt is nowadays frowned upon. Once upon a time, ‘love’ was freely expressed on the silver screen. This is almost unheard of today.
3. Cairo or Rome?
Women driving cars in Cairo face numerous problems today: not only is the traffic suffocating, but the cat-calls and the harassment that many endure while in the comfort of their cars has become a daily occurrence for many. Imagine a woman driving a Vespa in the middle of Cairo.
4. Skirts, school and the open air
Recently, a young woman was harassed at Cairo University for wearing a pink sweater and black pants and not covering her long blonde hair. Yet, decades ago, skirts attracted little to no such harassment.
5. A Jewish department store…in Egypt?
Benzion department store was founded in Cairo by Moise Levy de Benzion, a Sephardic Jew who had lived in Egypt. Benzion’s legacy, however, ended while he was in Europe during World War II. Benzion was captured and killed in a camp by the Nazis. Shortly after his death, the government ran the department store until it shut down several years later. The idea of a Jewish department store in Egypt will likely surprise many: a few years ago Sainsbury’s was forced to shut down over rumours that the owner was Jewish spread like wildfire in Egypt.
6. “Let’s head to the beach…in speedos!”
Swimwear fashion has changed worldwide. Men and women in swimsuits enjoying the sand and the water at a public beach in 1964. You do not want to see what a public beach looks like these days.
Basically: alcohol advertisements are no longer in existence in Egypt. Last year, alcohol was almost completely banned from the country by the now-removed Islamist government.
8. The man who united the Arabs
Gamal Abdel Nasser was hailed during his reign as the man who stood up against imperialism and the man behind the idea of ‘Pan-Arabism.’ He attempted to adopt a ‘socialist (Nasserist)’ economic policy in Egypt and attempted to unite the Arabs in a scheme similar to the European Union.
9. Are you sure this is Assiut?
These are groups of Egyptian women at a political rally in Assiut. Not a single woman was wearing the veil or a baggy dress, yet they were considered to have been dressed appropriately and were not attacked for their fashion.
10. The Egyptian Female Revolutionary
Egyptian women volunteered in 1956 to bear arms in resistance to a joint Israeli-French-British attack, after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in what became known as the 1956 Suez Crisis. Today, Egyptian women do not participate in the military (unless its in an administrative role).
11. Military propaganda existed in 1957 and it still exists today
If you drive around Cairo today, you’ll find plenty of similar propaganda: soldiers holding children, a child with a flower, and many more.
12. Turning over the page to a bright future
This piece of propaganda shows a man with the Egyptian Eagle on his arm turning over the page to a bright future that hails “justice,” “democracy,” “elections,” and the “military”. The previous page included feudalism, imperialism, and traditionalism. Did Egypt achieve democracy and elections? Well…
13. The Star of the East
When Om Kalthoum died in 1975, heartbreak erupted across Egypt, the Arab World and the globe. Decades after her death, she is still regarded as the greatest female Arabic singer in history.
14. The Cairo Swimsuit Competition
For a woman in Egypt to wear a swimsuit these days, she has to be at a private beach, a private pool, or at a private residence. Imagine what would happen if we re-introduced the Cairo Swimsuit Competition.
15. Who needs Coca-Cola when we have ‘Egypt Cola!’
At some point in history, Egypt was not only producing cars and appliances, but also its own version of Coca-Cola.
16. Clearly, Coca-Cola won
‘Egypt Cola’ no longer exists: we now have Coca-Cola and Pepsi!
17. The First Arab Car
Like the Coca-Cola, Egypt also decided to produce automobiles. While the industry did not end up surviving, it does show the potential future economic capabilities of Egypt.
18. Who is our beauty queen?
This is an interesting article. It proclaims “Seven Queens in the Republic!” We rarely hear of Miss Egypt these days. In 1954, Miss Egypt Antigone Costanda won the coveted Miss World title.
19. Soap, please?
Have you been to Tanta recently? If someone were to replicate this advertisement today, it would likely be torched.
20. This isn’t a desert: it’s Cairo
Cairo was not always a concrete jungle.
The early 1990’s were perhaps Egypt’s last few ‘good’ years before rapid economic and social deterioration. While this does not show much, it is an enjoyable photograph of a world-wide famous model, Tatjana Patitz, enjoying herself with some locals at a cafe.
22. The beacon of light
Education in Egypt in the mid 1900’s was considered to be among the best in the world, and especially in the Arab world. Queens, Kings, Princes and Princesses would all travel to Egypt for education.
23. Some things never change
If there is one thing that has not changed, it’s Egypt’s smoking culture. The biggest shift has been the move away from cigarettes and towards shisha. However, Egyptians are still known for their smoking habits decades after this advertisement.
BONUS: Is that a…camera?
(Many of these photographs are available thanks to ‘Vintage Egypt.’ Click here to see more)