CAIRO – The economic and political situations may be serious here, but they're not stopping Egyptians from consuming more alcohol or expanding the party scene, party-goers and club owners told The Media Line recently.
The increase in booze consumption has boosted revenues for the clubs, bars, and the Egyptian government as well from taxes collected on the brew.
Peter Matta, an Egyptian in his mid-30s known for organizing events and parties, was asked by The Media Line whether parties and drinking have increased since the revolution.
"Many! Way more parties," he said. "People are crazy. There always are so many parties always going on. We can't keep up anymore, and I'm very involved in the scene. There are more local DJs, more parties, more exposure, more international DJs. People are drinking more now. We all have noticed that."
Mohammed Fahmy from Maadi, a Cairo suburb, said his drinking habits have remained the same since the revolution despite soaring prices for alcoholic drinks. "My spending is the same, but prices are more for sure. Despite $15 cocktails, I still go out and have a few drinks," he told The Media Line.
The increase in drinking and partying is a bit easier to explain when you consider that Egypt was the first nation on earth to ferment barley to produce what known today as beer. The tradition of drinking beer is well accepted among many Egyptian Muslims and non-Muslims despite the fact that there is a prohibition against drinking intoxicants in the Koran.
While most Egyptians don't drink alcohol in public, preferring to drink privately at home, there is still a growing demand for alcohol consumption that created a need for more bars and nightclubs in Cairo and Alexandria.
Indeed, the large increase in alcohol consumption is a sobering thought considering the tense political and economic situations in Egypt. While some social unrest remains, the volume of beer sales in Egypt rebounded strongly in 2012, reflecting a partial recovery in tourism and more drinking by young Egyptians.
According to statements by the spokesman for the Dutch beer Heineken, alcohol consumption in Egypt increased in 2012 despite the 2011 revolution and drop in the number of tourists. Heineken made over $300 million in profits from beer sales in Egypt last year.
According to an Al-Ahram Beverages statement, "Egypt is the 17th largest beer market in Africa and the Middle East, reaching a demand of roughly 110 million liters annually, of which 690,000 are alcoholic beer."
"My sales grew by 80% since the revolution started. People seem to have a lot to talk about and they come here to ventilate, drink a few beers," Gamal Gomaa, a partner in Spitfire, an Irish pub in Alexandria, told The Media Line. "People tend to come more often despite the increase in alcohol prices due to imposed alcohol taxes. People are a bit careful in their spending, but they still come and drink," he said.
Not just a male-dominated scene
Egypt puts a 1200% to 3000% import tax on alcoholic beverages but that also has failed to stem increasing sales and partying. The Egyptian government collects a hefty tax on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages that amounts to $1.2 billion annually. Alcohol is mostly consumed in restaurants, bars or nightclubs, and hotel lounges which have an alcoholic sales license.
The Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) has occasionally showed support for the tourism industry, and will not prohibit the sale of alcohol to tourists. Beer is sold from anywhere between $1 a bottle at the local beer and wine store to $5 in nightclubs. Some bars in local areas serve beer for $2 a bottle. Generally, prices for wine and beer at bars and clubs are determined by the location where it is sold.
The flourishing market for alcoholic beverages in Egypt seems less strange when you trace its roots. The word alcohol comes from Arabic, one of many Arabic words that made its way into the English language, as pioneering Muslim chemists made their first distillery for the byproduct called alcohol. Once they had the product, it was up to religious leaders' interpretations of the Koran to decide whether to allow its consumption or not.
Alcohol was not directly prohibited by Islam. It took several stages and verses, known as revelations, for all Muslims to heed the call to abstain from drinking beer and wine. The Koran refers to alcohol in Chapter 4, verse 43, where it is written: "Muslims are forbidden to attend prayers while intoxicated."
In Chapter 2 verse 219, the Koran stipulates, "Intoxicants are said to contain good and evil, but the evil is greater than the good," while in Chapter 5, verse 90, alcohol and gambling are called "abominations of Satan's handiwork."
All these verses combined call for abstaining from drinking intoxicants, while the final verse (revelation) warns Muslims against such behavior and to avoid it since it leads to devious behavior.
That warning, however, doesn't seem to be heeded much in Egyptian nightspots. Tamer Leithy, a DJ and party organizer in Alexandria, says that more youth are now gravitating to Alexandria nightclubs. On the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, Agami Club House in Alexandria opened to Egyptians in their 30s and above.
"I believe these nightclubs cater to the upper middle class and for people who don't want to be bothered with young crowds," Leithy told The Media Line.
Matta said that the older generation had switched over from going out to more private parties. "There are certainly selective private parties that I get invited to now. So there's more room for newcomers in the nightclubs who started coming in to fill the gap. In addition, more venues opened up so more people started going out."
Five upscale nightclubs have opened since the start of the revolution in Cairo in 2011: Graffiti at the Four Seasons Hotel; O Bar at the Fairmont Hotel; Cavalini and The Roof at the Sunset Mall; and Level in Zamalek, an affluent Cairo neighborhood. "We have found a demand for drinkers after the revolution. People are running away from their problems and to a safer environment," DJ Omar Asmy said.
"Drinking and partying used to be restricted to a certain class of people, but now there is a flood of newcomers from all social classes," Matta said.
Whereas in the past the social scene was a tightly closed circle, now others have begun to mingle. Also, a more diverse type of music was introduced at some nightspots "which attracted a different sector who never went out very much before. Also the younger generation is all over." he said.
In general, Egyptians are now more open about their alcohol consumption than before, as stress from the revolution atmosphere and other uncertainties fuels this kind of rebellion against all that is traditional, even when it comes to a simple bottle of beer. Egyptian women are drinking as well, and it's not just a male-dominated scene.
"All my girlfriends drink," said Matta. "New girls in the party scene are also drinking… It's crazy, really crazy!"
Article written by Sherif Elhelwa