A Different Souq

Khan al-Khalili, Cairo, Egypt

This evening, around 10pm, Mohannad and I went to Khan al-Khalili for a little last-minute souvenir shopping. Ordinarily Khan al-Khalili would be hopping. Six months ago when I was there with my cousin, the place was thronging with tourists. Two years ago when I visited as a tourist, only months after a deadly bombing right there in the market, you had to elbow your way through the crowd.

By 10:30 last night, the sidewalks were mostly rolled up. Virtually the only shops open were the ones with TVs around which Egyptians were crowded to watch Zamalek Football Club get their asses kicked.

This is the way of the world in a volatile region of absolute dictatorships and grinding oppression. Revolutions and other violence happens. Other kinds of major crime – and even most petty crime other than corruption – tend to be much lower in police states like Egypt, Jordan and Syria, but that doesn’t make headlines like revolutions, terrorist attacks and American invasions. When such major events do happen, though, we have long memories.

A few months later, the tourists have begun to trickle back – probably more in the Sinai than in Egypt proper – but in such small numbers that the tourist economy is seriously suffering. Khan al-Khalili should never be so quiet that the empty alleyways fairly echo.


  1. I think I told you about how when I sent pictures of my trip to see you last spring my aunt sent me back a message saying “you're so brave for going there. Your Uncle and I looked at going to Jordan once in the 80s, but then there was violence, so we never considered it again.” And I'm just going “seriously? 20 years ago there was some violence, so you've decided never to go there?” I mean, shit. That takes out a good number of the places I've ever been, nevermind the places I've *lived*. It was only about 15 years since the latest violence in Prague when I lived there and it was ongoing when I lived in Belfast.


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