A Ramadan Iftar to Remember

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Enter in Peace and Safety

In celebration of Eid el-Fitr, the 3 day feast after 29 days of fasting, this post remembers a lovely Ramadan summer evening spent at the Demirdashiya el- Khalwatiya Sufi Order in Cairo. I do not profess to have knowledge about sufism. This post is intended to share an uplifting experience that was organized by Amir Abbas Helmi and the Friends of Manial Palace, an iftar (breaking of the fast) at the palace, mosque, and grounds of the Demirdashiya Sufi Order.

On the gate of the entrance, the plaque reads, Qasr (palace) Abdul Rahim Demerdash Pasha, donor of  Demerdash Charitable Hospital, for hospitalization of patients and the poor, 1928.

Iftar tables in the open portico next to the mosque that has cells for silent meditation during a sufi gathering,  on lower and upper floors.

The Khalwatiya, a Sufi brotherhood (tariqa), came to Egypt during the Mamluk period. The Demirdash family was of Circassian Mamluk ancestry, arriving in Egypt with the name Taymmourtash around 1517. Muhammad el-Demirdash el-Mahmudi founded a Sufi order —al- Tariqa el-Demirdashiya—soon after the Ottoman took control of Egypt. The responsibility of continuing the order passed down from father to son, and Sheikh Abdul Rahim Demirdash Pasha  assumed the mantle from his father, Mustafa, at the age of twenty-four. The Sufi order was made up of prominent scholars and merchants, which, along with his considerable wealth, gave Abdul Rahim influence in parliament, where he served, in various positions, for nearly twenty years. In 1928 , he donated his property on Queen Nazli Street (now Ramsis Street) to build a charity institution, the Demirdash Hospital, now a part of Ain Shams University Hospital.

Cells for individual sufis in the background. The key element of Demirdash Khalwatiya  philosophy  is silent meditation.

A peaceful but active order is dedicated to inclusion of all religions, gender, and peoples. All are welcome to visit.

For those who would like a complete discussion of the Demirdashiya al- Khalwatiya Order, read: Visionaries of Silence by Earle H. Waugh (AUC Press, 2007).

 

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CAIRO AFLAME

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When the Flame Trees bloom, you can be sure it is heating up in Cairo! Between the last few weeks of May and early June, the streets light up in the brilliant glow of red from the Delonix regia tree. Though we need no reminder of summer heat in this part of the world, the glorious splash of red provides a welcomed relief. 

Obelisque Magazine – 2017

copyscape-banner-white-160x56coverObelisque Magazine, published annually, is now available. The following articles are my contributions to the magazine*.

EIFFEL IN EGYPT

(read article here)

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photographs by Omneya Oun)

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THE ART OF LIVING

(read article here)

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photographs by George Fakhry)the-art-of-living-05-001

STREET ART – Nahdat Misr

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

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Read more about Nahdat Misr here

*Effiel in Egypt, Art of Living, and Nahdat Misr  by Lesley Lababidi, copyright 2017. All rights reserved under international copyright laws. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

**Articles are seen in Obelisque Magazine 2017, all rights reserved. Photographs and text cannot be reproduced without the written permission of Obelisque Magazine and Lesley Lababidi, George Fakhry, Omneya Oun.

***To purchase the magazine, in Cairo, Tanis at the First Mall, Giza; 32 Mohamed Anis, Zamalek and Ritz Carlton, Downtown. Outside of Egypt, contact: obelisque_magazine@yahoo.com or info@obelisquepublications.com. Telephone: +201094449762.

2017

“Beauty always has an element of strangeness… simple, unintended, unconscious strangeness [which] gives it the right to be called beauty.”

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Two Egyptian masons take time to greet me as I walk along a bridge in Manial, an island  in Cairo. They shout, Kol Sinna wa enta Tiyeeba...may your year be delicious! Although this is a typical greeting for a birthday or a feast and,sometime just to wish someone well, it is, of course, the greeting for the New Year.

With all the complexities and insecurities of the 2016, it has been difficult for me to say, “Happy” New Year, knowing that 2017 continues a  grim reality for millions of people suffering from inadequate food and shelter,  stripped of their identity and country as communication breaks down everywhere. So today, when I met these two masons who unreservedly communicated goodwill, within those seconds, my emotional response was that of gratitude… for standing on this bridge, at this moment and feeling beauty of tender gratitude.

Thank you to each individual, visitor and follower alike, who grace this web site with your time, your attention, and your most welcomed comments. I am genuinely grateful.

Asyut to Sohag: a story of movement and migration

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Friends of Manial Palace and Friends of the Coptic Museum at the Red Monastary, Sohag, Egypt

Prince Abbas Hilmi, the chairman of Friends of Manial Palace, enthusiasm to promote Egyptian heritage was demonstrated yet again by organizing an excursion to Asyut, Sohag, and Akhmim, Egypt. Members of the Friends of Manial Palace along with members of the Friends of the Coptic Museum came together for a three-day excursion in December 2016. Our leader and guide was the well-known Egyptologist, Dr. Rawya Ismail. Ahmed Essa from Eagle Travel managed the trip logistics with great success. And to our good fortune, Abouna Maximus, Coptic historian and expert in antique Coptic iconography was on the excursion as well.

I do not claim to be an authority, whatsoever, of Egyptology, archaeology, or Coptic theology (for that matter, any theology), my knowledge is elementary. I offer a glimpse into the past, spanning over 3000 years of history in Upper Egypt. From the reign of Akhenaten at al-Amarnah (1373-1364 BCE) to the Monastery of Virgin Mary at Deir Dronka (1st century), our trip included the White Monastery (442 CE) and Red Monastery (4th century) in Sohag, the Tombs of Meir (6th-12th Dynasty), ancient town of Akhmim, mawlid celebrations in honor of the birth day of prophet Muhammed, mawlid al nabi, (celebrations traced to the Abbasid Caliphate) and the Asyut barrage (1903).

The great Prussian naturalist, explorer, and geographer, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) wrote about the interconnectedness of the universe and said, “In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.” Migration is the process in which people move from one place to another for the purpose of settlement. What connects our modern story to the incredible human history, monuments, and philosophy of the past are found in stories of movement and migration. Click on links above for a brief look at connections with past civilizations.

**All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.copyscape-banner-white-160x56

Borders Literature for All Nations and Olatoun Williams Review Cairo’s Street Stories

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Borders Literature for All Nations 2016 is a Facebook site with the mission: In 2016, a forum for engaging with important issues and events in Africa’s history as recorded or reflected in good books.

Cairo’s Street Stories (AUC Press, Cairo, Egypt) was chosen for review by well-known and esteemed reviewer of African literature, Olatoun Williams. She writes:

We walk about the City of a Thousand Stories, ‘listening’ to Lababidi ‘speak’ with refreshing clarity on a wide range of topics spanning that history. What I have learned from her is fascinating about the evolution of women’s rights and the liberation of women embodied in the full figure of singer – el Sitt – Umm Kulthum….

…Though Lesley Lababidi does not take us on a linear journey, the tour is well-planned. She does not make it difficult to take in the plethora of evidence of foreign occupation manifested not only politically, but in art, language, education, urban planning and in the fact and manner of economic exploitation. Looking at the timeline of foreign invasions through her eyes, it is easy to see why Egypt’s raging identity crises are as inevitable as the annual flooding of the Nile.

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Courtesy of Olatoun Williams

 My response to Olatoun for choosing to review Cairo’s Street Stories:

Your intellectual critic of CSS is beyond my admiration, beyond my gratitude, almost beyond words…. for your analytical approach as using CSS as a backdrop to study other literary books, that of the past- Mahfouz- and the moving, contemporary poetry of Zahery overwhelmingly left me shaking with delight, perspiring with the desire to walk the Cairo streets, and with pride : I am very, very honored that you chose CSS to examine the intricate texture and history of Cairo.

Read the full review here and here.

Lababidi 2008

Conference: Inheriting The City

IMG_1042Inheriting the City: Advancing Understandings of Urban Heritage

March 31 – April 4, 2016, Taipei, Taiwan

Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage, University of Birmingham, is pleased to announce our next international conference. We invite academics, policy makers and practitioners to consider the ways that heritage is being protected, managed and mobilised in rapidly changing and pressurised urban contexts. This multidisciplinary conference will explore the type of heritage, both tangible and intangible, that cities and towns will pass to future generations, and the processes through which the heritage of cities is being re-made, re-presented and re-used.

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Above photo: Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei, Taiwan– The venue for the conference.

This conference brought 200 professionals together from 40 countries to present papers on a variety of urban heritage issues from adaptive reuse of urban heritage to approaches to conservation of Chinese language, the 5-day conference was as diverse as it was inspiring. See program here.

The conference presented an opportunity to get out from behind the computer and meet, face to face, the people who work at preserving culture, saving heritage, and sometimes remembering heritage lost.

IMG_1069Fervor Troupe

Shaimaa Ashour, Egyptian architect, and I collaborated on the project, #City Walks: Another Perspective for Narrating the History of the City. Cairo, Egypt.  The research covered the chronological growth of city walks from 1970-2016, tracing initiatives (individual and organizational) across ten criteria. The analysis of city walks as a cultural heritage activity in Cairo emphasized individual and community initiatives that defines many facets of Egyptian heritage. A paper follows this presentation.

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Shaimaa, myself, and Professor Mike Robinson, University of Birmingham in front of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

Alone in Taipei for a Day

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world” – Freya Stark

I have a day on my own in Taipei with no personal guide and no language skills; a dislike for public transportation (walking is quite acceptable) and a joy of discovery. I have a list: Buddhist temple. Paper Culture Museum. Traditional Tea House. Elephant Hill. Forget fumbling for directions on a smartphone. The receptionist at the hotel writes directions in Chinese on an old-fashion piece of paper.

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Longshan Temple: I visited the night before with a study group so prepared with a little knowledge, I sat for an hour and observed, peacefully, the comings and goings and follow the lingering incense smoke connecting spirit to spirit.IMG_1101

IMG_1076SuHo Memorial Paper Culture Museum: Founded the Chang Chuen Cotton Paper Plant in 1940 by Chen SuHo and his wife, they were killed 50 years later in a plane crash. Their children opened this paper museum in their memory. Walking through the museum, one examines various paper’s made from a variety of bark and fibers. At the top floor crossing onto the roof of another building is a bamboo traditional house that carves out a quiet place in the midst of the city.

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Back on street level, I could not resist the aroma of strong coffee wafting from an open doorway. Chat Coffee. Watching movement on the street and then spotted revolving parking plates: a car drives onto the plate and it turns 45 or 90 or 180 degrees to position the car for a parking space.

Not to be missed are a variety of man-hole covers that decorate the city sidewalks…

Wistaria Tea House located in a Japanese-style 1920 wooden house serves Taiwanese tea in traditional Chinese and Japanese tatami rooms. The service gracious and unassuming, lingering over fine tea and pineapple cakes is a grand way to spend a few thoughtful hours. Afterwards, an art exhibition raising money for a children’s violin group: The Light of Taiwan

Elephant Hill ( aka Nangang District Hiking Trail) rises quickly 400 meters above Taipei. Determination is all that is needed to climb the uneven stone steps to the top of the hill for great views of Taipei skyline and Taipei 101.

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Back to the best little hotel in Taipei: Royal Biz Hotel, to greet the friendly staff, sleep on satin sheets in a sparkling clean room, enjoy an extraordinary breakfast located in the heart of the city.

IMG_1138Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall during cherry blossoms season

More Reflections:

Conference Paper: City Walks: Another Perspective for Narrating the City

http://shaimaa-keephuntingphotos.blogspot.com.eg/2016/08/narrating-cairo-walks-exploring-taipei.html

Obelisque Magazine 2016

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Articles featured in Obelisque Magazine 2016

Indigo and the Turban

read article here

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

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Kaber Sobhy, The Street of the Food. 

Read article here.

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photography by George Fakhry)

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Raouf Zaidan, Egyptian Opera

 Read article here.

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photographs by George Fakhry)

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Mahmoud Mandour, Artist and Potter

Read article here

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photography by George Fakhry)

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From Lebanon With Love

read article here

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

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Street Art – Ibrahim Pasha

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

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Book Review by Lesley Lababidi: Discovering Downtown Cairo

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*Copyright 2016 by Lesley Lababidi. All rights reserved under international copyright laws. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

**Articles are seen in Obelisque Magazine 2016, all rights reserved. Photographs and text cannot be reproduced without the written permission of Obelisque Magazine and Lesley Lababidi and George Fakhry.

***To purchase the magazine, in Cairo, the best place is at Tanis at the First Mall, Giza. They usually always have a copy. The new, annual 2016 just came out so they should have the 2015 and 2016. Also in Zamalek there is a Tanis on 32 Mohamed Anis and Diwan Bookstore on 26th of July, Zamalek (sometimes sold out but they try to keep it in stock). Outside of Egypt, contact: obelisque_magazine@yahoo.com or info@obelisquepublications.com. Telephone: +201094449762.

‘Abbasiyya: a walk through a forgotten royal district

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Rococo decoration on Sakakini Palace built in 1897. See: https://nomad4now.com/articles-egypt/sakakini-palace-19th-century-luxury/

‘Abbasiyya, the place of Abbas, is a middle class district northeast of Cairo. ‘Abbas Hilmi I (r.1848-1854), nephew of Mohamed Ali Pasha, took over the administration after the Ibrahim Pasha’s death in 1847. He began to devote his attention to building palaces (7), a hospital, military schools and military barracks in a new suburb he called after himself, ‘Abbasiyya. He gave land to members of the royal family for them to build palaces. ‘Abbas extended the road system from Cairo to ‘Abbasiyya to encourage the royal family and ministers to live in the new district. Accounts from travelers at the time stated, “ ‘Abbasiyya claim that ‘Abbas’s palace “set an example for palace beauty and that the royal princes, like ‘Abbas himself, preferred to build in European fashions.” ( Pollard, Nurturing the Nation. p42).

From the city of Fustat in 640 that evolved in 750 to the Abbasid city of Al-Askar; to Ibn Tulun’s al-Qatai in 870 and finally the in 969 the Fatimid city of al-Qahirah—Cairo, each newly-found area stimulated the economy to promote public allegiance to the regime through expansion and by  destruction or neglect of the old system. It seems ‘Abbas Pasha might have decided to follow other rulers of Egypt by looking northward to create a new royal city himself. Unfortunately for ‘Abbas Pasha, he was murdered before his royal ambitions could be attained. Sa’id Pasha, his successor, let the burgeoning quarters fall into neglect.

Eclectic architecture of nineteenth and twentieth century in ‘Abbasiyya:

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‘Abbasiyya went under another period of growth under the Khedive Tawfik (r.1879-1892), who built his palace in the quarters. In 1892, the tramway lines operated to the neighborhood and ‘Abbasiyya became a popular residential district for palaces and villas for Egyptian elite, the British, and Egyptian middle class.

In 1885 Baedeker’s guidebook, Egypt, Handbook for Travellers,writes:

We follow the road to the left, leading direct to Abbasiyeh. On the right we pass a modern public fountain, and on the left an old burial-mosque and the ‘European Hospital.’ ‘Abbaisiyeh is a group of houses and cottage, founded by ‘Abbas Pasha in 1849, i order to afford suitable accommodation for the Beduin shekhs whose friendship he was desirous of cultivating, and who objected to enter the city itself. A large palace which formerly stood here has been replace by barracks in the most modern style, besides which there are numerous older barracks and a military school with a gymnastic-ground. The English troops are at present encamped here. Near the last barrack on the left is a palace of the ex-Khedive’s mother, and a little farther on, also to the left, rises the meteorological and astronomical Observatory. At the end of the houses of ‘Abbasiyeh begin the new garden which have been reclaimed from the desert. The road crosses two railways, passes the village of Kubbeh (Qubba), intersects beautiful orchard and vineyards, and leads under handsome acacias and past numerous sakiyehs to the Palace of Khedive Tewfik.  The vineyards, which were planted by Ibrahim Pasha, the grandfather of the Khedive, and contain various kinds of vines from Fontainebleau, are celebrated. This property formerly belonged to the late Mustaf Fazil-Pasha, the uncle of the Khedive.  The present palace , however, has been entirely erected by Tewfik himself. In the desert, is situated the Race Course, where races formerly took place annually in January.

 

(Hover cursor for information about Villa Yousef Pasha Soloman built in 1914. For more information and to see the interior  read: Egyptian Palace and Villas, 1808-1960 by Shirley Johnston, p130-133.)

‘Abbasiyya was a diverse district of various religious groups and nationalities. Churches, mosques, synagogues and hospitals, schools, cemeteries were developed for specific groups who lived in relative harmony. People from the Levant and Europe settled in ‘Abbasiyya built schools, factories, businesses, and considered Egypt as home. As for the Jewish community ( Read: Lucette Lagnado’s Man in a White Sharkskin Suit and Egypt Today, “Oral History of Egypt’s Jewish Minority.” May 2005.) , they had religious freedom, held government positions and many were part of the elite society.  After the UN approved the Partition Plan in 1947 to create Israel and after the Egyptian 1952 coup d’etat, everything changed.

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‘Abbasiyya was founded as a royal district in the middle of the desert by ‘Abbas Helmi I. A satellite settlement that started without roads, water, or  sewage works was certainly one reason for its slow beginnings. After ‘Abbas Pasha’s death,  the transferral of military power to the Qasr el Nil barracks by Sa’id Pasha changed the area of urbanization followed by  Ismail Pasha’s master plan of Ismailiyya in 1869, ‘Abbasiyya district remained stagnant until Khedive Tawfik took power with the British occupation. At the turn of the nineteenth century, palaces and European villas, upper-class apartment houses grew steadily with schools, hospitals, and religious institutions complimenting all groups. Unfortunately little survives of these archaeological gems and what remains will probably not survive much longer.

Some ‘Abbasiyya sights:

Further Reading: Nihal Tamraz. Nineteenth-Century Cairn Houses and Palaces, “Abbasiya as a Case Study of Nineteenth-Century Upper-Class Domestic Architecture.” AUC Press. 1998. p56-76.

*Thanks to Ahmed el Bindari for organizing the ‘Abbasiyya Walk’.

Heritage vs Urbanization: A Balancing Act

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**All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.