The Agony And Ecstasy Of Electro Egypt

On the eve of one of Egypt's most controversial elections, music rules a little corner of Cairo.

Jun 15 2012, 3:50pm

“Every night feels like our last gasp of fun," said Timmy Mowafi, a young entrepreneur (co-founder of Tazkarty, Cairo’s version of TicketMaster) and friend of the Egyptian electro trio Wetrobots and Bosaina. The band played last night in Cairo at the 100COPIES Electronic Music Festival. It’s the eve of the Egyptian presidential election.

It was a dead heat a month ago. Last May in the primaries the votes were split between Mohamed Morsi (5.7 million) and Ahmed Shafik (5.5 million). Mr. Morsi is the Muslim Brotherhood guy and Mr. Shafik is the Hosni Mubarak guy. But The Brotherhood seemed to be pulling ahead since then—they had already won the majority of the seats in parliament and then almost successfully blocked Shafik from running because of his involvement in Mubarak’s regime (he is a former commander of the Air Force and the last elected prime minister under Mubarak’s 30 year romp). It was looking like a win for The Brotherhood until this week, when Egypt’s highest court completely dissolved the parliament and decided Shafik was an eligible candidate. Oh, and just to make things interesting, the military has re-imposed martial law.

This weekend, Egypt will vote for their next president. Regardless of who wins, there will be protests in Cairo—re-vote, revolt, coup, or something like that will happen. But yesterday, Cairo was quiet. The Cairenes are sitting in the shade and smoking hashish—waiting to get all pissed off again.

Mahmoud Refat, owner of the Cairo based 100COPIES record label and organizer of the 100COPIES Festival, was pragmatic about the whole thing. “Normally the venue is full, but [today], everyone’s at home, watching TV, waiting for what happens next.” But by the time Wetrobots and Bosaina got on stage, it was packed with eager electronic music fans and amused auto mechanics from across the street. I asked Refat how he was feeling about the looming election. “At least there’s some competition now that Shafik can run.” And when I inquired if he thought anyone at the show wanted The Brotherhood to win, his reply was simply, “Are you kidding?”

Based on what I gathered from the hipsters and grease monkeys at the show, everyone was worried their fledgling music scene will be vaporized if the Muslim Brotherhood gets the nod. After the show, Wetrobots and Bosaina vented over drinks at The New President Bar (how perfect is that?). Ismail Hosny, the keyboardist, said “I’m going to play my music no matter who wins. I just might not be playing in Egypt.” Timmy, the entrepreneur, was a bit more apocalyptic, “If Morsi wins, this is all over—the music, the drinks, everything.” Timmy was grilling Ismail because Ismail said he wasn’t going to vote for either candidate. “Not voting is a vote for The Brotherhood. You need to vote for Shafik, man.”

Everyone I spoke with at 100COPIES felt between a rock and a hard place. They believe a vote for Ahmed Shafik reverts to the oppressed life before January, 2011, and a vote for Mohamed Morsi condemns themselves to a conservative Islamic future. It’s been a long time since the country could cast a ballot, and now that they finally can, they don’t like who’s on the ticket. “It’s easy to vote now; there’s places all around the city,” said a music composer smoking a cigarette outside the show, “I just don’t want to vote for either of these people.” Back inside, two girls in hijabs bobbed their heads as they listened to the frontwoman of Wetrobot and Bosaina scream into her microphone, “Music! Sex! Music! Sex!”

The venue, Rawabit Theater, is tucked away in a narrow alley less than a mile from Tahrir Square. The audience, in bunker, waits for the battle to continue. But tonight there is no president of Egypt, and it is the second night of the 100COPIES Festival. Tonight, electronic music rules a little corner of Cairo.


Photos by Stephanie Chang