The anti-Muslim Nile Hotel
As a regular visitor to the land of the Pharaohs and having lived there for about a year, I often feel that Egypt is my second home. Well, due to some complicated genetics, maybe my fourth home. My point is that Cairo was not the place I expected I would be discriminated against for being Muslim.
When I was living in Mohandiseen a couple of years ago, a British-Egyptian friend of mine was visiting the country so we planned a few escapades. One of them, admittedly one of the rather less adventurous outings, was a day at the pool in the Nile Hotel (then, the Nile Hilton). I know, I know … tourist alert, but humor me.
Being an observant Muslim, I decided to buy an unrevealing swimsuit for the day and went straight to the swimwear shop inside the hotel. I opted for a 3-piece swimsuit that covered me from head to toe, which is the type of outfit popular with other Arabs and Egyptians, especially when they frequent the North Coast with their families. Ever the sore-thumb in the UK, I had little time for self-consciousness by the pool, so my friend and I paid our entrance fees and went to sit down.
After about half an hour, we noticed some of the hotel staff talking about us, but I put it down to the phenomenon that is Arab curiosity and ignored it. More of a staff crowd was gathering and as my friend went to the toilet, I went for a swim. I was completely aware of the commotion I was causing above water until I heard voices getting increasingly louder. I was being beckoned out of the pool.
Following some profuse and almost choreographed arm gesticulating, I left the pool, with my friend joining me at the staff desk. In my mind I thought perhaps the water had been contaminated, not for a second did it cross my mind that I was being too Muslim.
“You can’t go in the pool wearing those clothes,” the hotel told me.
The staff said it was for health reasons; maybe I had a rash on my arm which I was covering. So I showed them my arm. Then I said that that lady over there might have a rash on her arse and we’d never know…
Then they said it was just policy. I asked what policy? Where were the signs telling me what I could and could not wear, and even if there were signs, why did they not tell me while I was entering the area, in the swimsuit which, I politely (or not) reminded them, I had bought inside the hotel, about 20 meters away.
After some sweat-inducing umm-ing and ahh-ing, they agreed to give me my money back, in the hope that I would skip merrily away.
After leaving the poolside, my friend and I went to the front desk to complain. The official kept us waiting for about twenty minutes and when he did show up he didn’t even have the courtesy to take us to a private room. He fed us the same lines that the hotel staff had tried to content us with earlier, adding a few golden nuggets of ignorance in there. He said that the hotel’s pool was intended for foreigners. Apart from sounding like apartheid, I reminded him that I was foreign and that the world is not divided into Muslim and foreign. He rolled his eyes and refused to help us.
The reason I chose to share this is not because of my obvious frustration, but to highlight the hypocrisy with which some companies in Egypt work. Indeed some people even think like this; that foreign is always better, ignoring the fantastic aspects of Egypt’s culture.
If a Muslim cannot be treated with equality in a “Muslim” country, then how can we expect equality anywhere else? Of course, “Muslim” entails much more that one single culture, country or government, but it is extremely disappointing to find that in Egypt, of all places, some people and companies find it hard to reconcile Muslims and modernity. The Nile Hotel was and is afraid of the image it will portray if it has any old muhagaba walking in and so it has put into place a mechanism to hide us from the view of its precious clients. Clearly, there can be no such thing as a Muslim client.