Cairo’s underground youth & the gender divide in this growing subculture

“I think although people are trying to break through some norms and cultural rules, gender remains something that they still can’t break.”

Image by Muhammed Ibrahim

Selim El Sadek’s directorial debut is unlike I’ve ever seen Cairo’s youth represented.

“Here we get out of the ordinary system. I do whatever I want…,” the narrator says as a darkwave electronic track begins to pulsate in the background.

Premiered on video curator Nowness, Sadek’s short film, Cairo takes us all over Egypt’s sprawling capital.

From horseback riding on freeways to motorcycle stunts under bridges, to rap battles in abandoned buildings, Cairo’s underground artists are a growing subculture.

Most of the participants are from Giza, the third largest city in Egypt on the border of the Cairo Governorate. These Egyptians have formed their own visual language made up of rap, a local dance called Fa and a unique style of dress.

“I think there a few people in Egypt who are trying to create something and being part of that is really rewarding,” he says. “I don’t want to make stuff about people. I want it to be from the people.”

But to believe that El Sadek’s film tells a complete story is to believe that there are no women in this burgeoning subculture. It’s a problem El Sadek says he found difficult to navigate.

“Many of those guys unfortunately still think that this isn’t a place for girls. And by place I mean like a party or a gathering where they’ll rap,” he laments.

“Girls need to go out more, do what they want and fight these sick norms that people still believe in. As for the boys, they should encourage them to go out to the public and do what they like, not fight them and make them feel like they’re doing something wrong or sinful.”

In Cairo Scene, a popular Egyptian online publication, writer Niveen Ghoneim provided some insight into the gender divide among Egyptian youth. She says that more often than not, gender equality is influenced by class.

She wrote: “ a country where society is segregated by class barriers, 45-55 per cent poverty, and economic inequalities – putting Egypt in the top 25 most economically unequal countries in the world, according to the World Bank, even women’s rights can be a privilege that only money can afford.”

Photo by Muhammed Ibrahim

According to El Sadek, the women they approached to be part of the film refused out of fear. “We had difficulty finding girls who were willing to be shown to the public doing what they want to do. We reached out to some girls and they refused as they didn’t understand what’s the project about or how will they be shown or in what matter. So they were really scared and afraid.”

"I think although people are trying to break through some norms and cultural rules, gender remains something that they still can’t break."

While Egypt’s subversive cultures are on the rise, the youth still have a long way to go before they can uproot longheld patriarchal beliefs. In the next part of our series on social impact design in North Africa, we’ll profile some of the women making moves in their industries.