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El Ahwa: Exploring the Everyday Egyptian Man’s Favourite Leisurely Haunt

May 22, 2022
Men smoking shisha at an ahwa. Photo credit: Marwa Morgan.

In Arabic, the word qahwa translates simply to ‘coffee’. Said in the Egyptian dialect, however, the word ahwa gains a whole new meaning. An ahwa is a typical Egyptian coffee house, where ironically, the most popular drink is sweet, black tea. Never in short supply, these informal establishments can sometimes be found crammed by the handful in the narrowest of alleyways, and they are nearly always packed. The Egyptian ahwa is nothing like the air-conditioned café chains lining the insides of malls and selling lattes to the upper middle class – they are a world of their own. And while some Egyptian ahawy (the plural of ahwa) bear plaques identifying them as the preferred haunts of political activists and literary heroes, others are as quotidian as can be, a place for the idle of body and mind. And even those are cultural staples. “A traditional Cairene ahwa is like a microcosm of the city: crowded, boisterous, and sensuous to the point of overload; a ramshackle gestalt formed from the swarm of plastic tables and chairs spilling onto the street, the ebb and flow of conversation and laughter, the swirl of fragrant shisha smoke, and the…

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