Work Horse in Egypt

My friend Natasha Ghoneim went to Cairo this summer, as she does most summers. But this time she went with the goal of finding some of the untold stories of the revolution.  As Egypt’s revolution made clear, human rights are not something guaranteed to anyone, not just in the Middle East but in many places in the world.

Work Horses in Egypt

So what about the animal rights in a world with limited human rights?

Arabs don’t have a lot of indoor pets, but outdoors, animals remain their friends and often their livelihood, especially horses.  At a place thousands of tourists go every year.  This is one of Natasha’s stories, which resulted in an Australia animal relief organization stepping in to help.

Egypt, Revolution, and Kushari (Koshari)

As the people of Egypt rise up against three decades of corruption, they do so very aware of thousands of years of culture that includes the pharaohs, Cleopatra, some of the greatest scholarship and literature of the Arab world, the wonders of the Nile, the Suez Canal, the Aswan Damn—and, perhaps not as internationally renowned as I think it should be, kushari.

Kushari, sometimes spelled koshori in English,  is a mix of lentils, rice, and macaroni topped with spicy tomato sauce and caramelized onions.  It is exactly what an ideal revolution should be: easily assembled, quick, orderly, healthy for the whole nation, inexpensive, worth the effort, adaptable to the times.  Most importantly, like a good revolution, kushari is all inclusive and socially conscious: while kushari is a traditional street food, it is also a comfort food served at the most elite of homes and it is something everyone loves–it pleases rich and poor, carnivores and vegetarians, children and adults, the health conscious and binge eater. Nor can you easily corrupt kushari—it can be amended to be organic, greasy, low fat, multigrain, or whatever the changing mores of the society dictate without losing its integrity.

I was introduced to kushari by an Egyptian co-worker in Qatar many years ago. The next time I went to Cairo, all I wanted was kushari.  “We’d like to invite you to eat kabob along the Nile,” people would say.  And I’d say, “Where can we get some good kushari?”

Arab hospitality isn’t about serving up simple food, so I rarely got my wish.  “You’ll have to come over, and we’ll make it for you” is the common response.  But I inevitably turn down these requests because of kushari’s above-mentioned revolutionary qualities:  in Egypt, you don’t invite people over for something quick and easily assembled. Any kushari these friends and family made me at home would have also come with a leg of lamb and a roast chicken at a minimum.

Kushari isn’t served at fancy restaurants, and the street carts do require a certain amount of bravery and courage on the part of one’s gastrointestinal track.  Instead, try making it home, just like an Egyptian.  This recipe is from my friend who first introduced me to kushari.


1 C. long grain rice  (use brown rice, if you prefer, but either way, the rice must not be mushy or sticky.  It should be individual grains)

1 C. macaroni (use whole wheat, if you prefer)

1 C. brown lentils

2 large onions, sliced thinly

1 15.5 oz can of chopped tomatoes

4 cloves of garlic, minced

4 T. olive oil

Red pepper flakes to taste

Cook the rice, lentils, and macaroni separately, salting to taste.

Fry the onions in half the olive oil until caramelized and almost crispy

Sautee the garlic in the remaining olive oil.  Add pepper flakes to taste. Add chopped tomatoes. (Feel free to further season this sauce as you like.  I like to add a little allspice)

Assemble the kushari:  Gently mix together the rice, lentils, and macaroni so they stay intact.  Arrange on a platter.  Pour the tomato sauce on top.  Sprinkle with the fried onions.  Serve immediately with additional sauce on the side.


In order to get to my reading in Cairo, my two colleagues and I had to negotiate with a stoned cab driver, whose body for most of the harrowing ride was half

Misr Studio's Sphinx

Misr Studio's Sphinx

out the taxi chatting with a man stuck on the bus next to us, and a donkey who refused to budge off the sidewalk, and when we tried to walk to the right of him, as we couldn’t pass the triple parked cars on his left, he was joined by his friend the goat.  There were several other negotiations as well, including at the bookstore, but that’s Cairo.  Yes, that’s Cairo.  That and incredible history and architecture that have survived several natural disasters and wars, including a troubling war with pollution and overpopulation today.

The night before I left for Cairo, there was coincidently a lecture at NYU Abu Dhabi about downtown Cairo’s architecture.  The lecturer said that even in their damaged states, Cairo’s old buildings and mosques put to shame what he called Disneyland architecture, in which the glory of these buildings is imitated by others, but the result is only façade deep.  He didn’t mention the Luxor in Vegas because that is an imitation with no pretensions other than being fun and camp. Nor did he mention the new American University of Cairo campus, which would fit his definition, but rather took aim at the Gulf’s spurt of new Islamic-themed buildings.

The real Sphinx

The real Sphinx

However, the most bizarre Disneylandification I experienced was in Cairo.  It wasn’t at Misr Studios, Cairo’s impressive film studio, where there is a permanent set that is a very convincing recreation of the Sphinx, and which will probably become a tourist attraction itself.  Rather it was at the restaurant my friends and I went to after my reading at Diwan in the upscale Zamalak neighborhood.  In addition to some colleagues, I had in tow with me some very dear Egyptian friends that I’ve known for years.  One of them, Ashraf, suggested we go to a hip spot set in an old Cairo building.  Any restaurant should have been happy to see such a big group walk in on slow night, but the manager quickly took Ashraf aside and pointed to one of my friends, saying that either she had to leave or we all had to leave.  The friend in question is a very educated woman who has worked in the media for most of career.  She also wears a hijab.  As do at least 75 % of the women in Cairo, as far as I could tell.  But the manager explained that it wasn’t okay in this chic spot, a spot many foreigners come to—I guess he didn’t want to make them, or any of the Egyptians who might have some complex about being there, uncomfortable with reality.  Outraged, we all decided that we would leave, but my friend refused, saying she would leave, as she didn’t know where we could all go as a group otherwise. We all argued with her until I could see that perhaps she was going to cry if we continued on with our protestations, and so we let her go home and stayed.  The next day, she told me not to apologize.  She said that’s Cairo:  Even if most women in Cairo wear the hijab, she has been relegated to radio work, as the national television stations don’t allow women in hijabs to presenters.  Now that’s creating make-believe on TV.  That’s Disneylandification.