Letter from Egypt: the traditions of Cairo continue

In the El Horryia cafe, the beer still flows, and the patrons still laugh

The man in the corner blushes, and seems to conceal his embarrassment with a smile. He’s just dropped a bottle of Stella lager, and it’s smashed on the floor beside him.

There’s a tradition here at El Horryia, a busy cafe in downtown Cairo. Today I get to see it first hand. Drinkers all around turn to face him before roaring and clapping loudly, some even rising from their chairs to point in his direction.

It’s a jovial sound, though, and one that sees the man bury his head in his palms, laughing.

Shady, a downtown resident, has brought me here to show me one of his favourite cafes. Here, artists, architects, students and journalists drink side by side.

He’s happy to say it hasn’t changed much in the last year. Even in a country that is now much changed.

For him, Cairo today is almost the same as Cairo a year ago: the traffic is still crazy, the streets are still crowded, and his friends still order beers in packed bars.

And yet, walking around the city earlier, I saw stalls selling shoes, T-shirts and books standing beside those selling personal tasers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are few tourists venturing to Tahrir Square, and even the nearby Egyptian Museum. Here, one is as likely to see memorials to the uprising as travel agents offering trips to the pyramids and Luxor.

Street art, too, seems to be everywhere. From the city’s salubrious Zamalek district, known to many as the embassy belt, to historic Islamic Cairo, intricate, beautiful, well-crafted political graffiti adorns walls, bridges and roadsides, and speaks of a society in flux.

“Revolution,” screams a spray painted figure emblazoned with the anarcho-punk A symbol, in a graffito off Tahrir. Nearby, a solitary veiled woman stares from the side of a wall in another near Talaat Harb.

But for residents of Cairo like Shady, the city isn’t all about revolution and change. And indeed, hours later, another bottle hits the floor, and El Horryia once again fills up with cheers and claps.

Life here might be vastly different in many ways, but here, tonight, tradition carries on.

Every week Guardian Weekly publishes a Letter from one of its readers from around the world. We welcome submissions – they should focus on giving our readers a clear sense of a place and its people. Send them to weekly.letter.from@guardian.co.uk

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