Image from cairogossip.com
When I first started reading Cairo Gossip, it was in an attempt to get a feel for the city in advance of my first trip there. The club scene it depicts--a place where there's a schedule of perhaps ten clubs in Cairo, Sharm el-Sheikh, and a few other cities to see and be seen in, where a group of DJs develop followings and the parties are full of happy women in tank tops and men in polos--is not the sort of place I've ever found myself, but it reminded me of the New York where I spent my twenties, and gave me a picture of cosmopolitan, educated, upper-class young Cairo that was immediate and cheerful. The occasional post where one of the pseudonymous authors commented on Egyptian politics and life, from the AUC strike to how to fix Cairo's traffic problems to blaming the Ikhwan for "Arab Islamophobia" kept me reading, and suggested to me that Cairo Gossip was more substantive than its shoes-of-the-night posts might imply.
In late November, as Morsi attempted to consolidate power in the executive, the political content on Cairo Gossip spiked, going from perhaps one post a day (and some days with none) to multiple daily posts. What is particularly interesting here is that it wasn't merely an increase in commentary and discussion of political matters alongside its traditional focus on the party scene and lifestyle topics. Instead, CG treated these protests as another element of the lifestyle of the people it talks about.
One of the most common features of Cairo Gossip's website is the party liveblog, where photos are posted from parties as they happen or the next morning. (CG has started password-protecting these posts recently, at least partially in response to requests from party promoters, so I'm not linking to them directly.) Most days, and particularly after or during the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night major parties (the Egyptian weekend is Friday/Saturday), there will be at least one post from the night before, a peek into the pleasures and experience of the night before. But in the space after Morsi's decree, Cairo Gossip began posting nearly identical liveblogs…from protests. Here, for example, is a liveblog from the #nov23 protest in Tahrir Square; here is a photostream from a protest march from Zamalek to Tahrir, which at least one commenter on the Cairo Gossip Facebook page said was as large and committed as it was because of Cairo Gossip's work promoting it. The quality of the photos in party posts and protest posts is much the same: clearly snapshots taken with a phone camera (or perhaps a generic quality digital camera), little to no attention to framing or composition, and a focus on the people involved. Some photos are blurry or washed out with flash, but all of them convey a sense of place, of a community of people engaged in something together.
It is this collectivity that marks the way Cairo Gossip constructs its version of Cairo. When I spoke with Fishie, one of the lead writers of CG, it told me that there are perhaps only 600-1000 people who regularly participate in the Cairo party scene, who tend to be the children of business and political elites. Many appear to be graduates of the American University in Cairo, or the German University in Cairo, the two largest and most prestigious foreign universities, where the children of the upper classes go to earn degrees that will position them to take leadership roles in the country. (Mark Allen Peterson's Connected in Cairo is a brilliant ethnography of this demographic, drawing from his experiences as a professor at AUC; I read it while in Cairo, and it provided a deeply comforting way of contextualizing my experiences. Plus, there's the pleasant irony of reading a book with a Cilantro on the cover…in a Cilantro.) Like any subculture, members of it have signs and symbols by which they know each other; they go to the same places, they have the same contexts, and they engage with the world in ways that allow them to recognize other members, even if they don't know them specifically.
This common culture is not merely defined by parties. It is also defined by a set of political practices. On the second anniversary of the opening of Amici, a popular bar with the club set, which fell at the height of the protests against Morsi's decree, CG posted to encourage people to go both to Tahrir and to Amici, not just to have fun, but because Amici was a part of their culture of resistance.
"i remember in the first revolution AMICI was there for us during the revolution when we needed it. After we come back from tahrir we would go back to Amici re-group there and talk about what happened while having a cold beer or cocktail. When FEB11 happened Amici, opened up its doors to everyone and celebrated the first revolution. So this Monday (tomorrow ) I am going to have a PRE-VICTORY drink and when we bring down the tyrant Morsi a post victory drink too! and also have a drink for AMICI’s 2nd BDAY."
It's not just the writing team of Cairo Gossip (lead by Fishie, but including a whole menagerie of animal pseudonyms) who believe in this sort of integration of the political with their party world. Participants on the Facebook group (which is members only) participate in discussions about the political posts enthusiastically, whereas they're more likely to simply "like" posts about parties, or comment briefly on notes about business or locations. Facebook users are as likely to "like" or "share" posts having to do with political events as parties, and the political posts are much more likely to get shared on Twitter. (I'm guessing this is a structural difference in the uses and users of Twitter and FB among educated, upper-class Cairo.) Fishie even told me that, when the website concentrates too much on parties and not enough on political affairs at tense moments, readers and community members push back and demand more politics.
Although it's not crystal clear what all of the objections of this community are to Morsi's government (as if a group, or even an individual, could ever have a clear and concise single opinion on something this complicated!), it's also clear that this isn't all simple self-interest of drinking hipsters opposed to the Ikhwan. Certainly, they might object to taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, but they are also worried about business stability, the centralization of powers, and the non-democratic control of politics--things that lots of Egyptians, of all religions and political backgrounds, find worrisome about the Morsi regime. Just because this subculture is primarily constituted through their participation in eminently non-political activities such as clubbing doesn't mean that the participants in it don't have other identities and political perspectives--nor does it mean that the positions they develop from their subculture are invalid. Cairo Gossip isn't "just" a party website; it's a living representative of the politics and culture of a place in time, and that representation is vivid and fascinating.
Many thanks to Fishie for allowing me to join the Facebook group, answering my questions and being so friendly. Next time I'm in Cairo, I owe you a drink. :)