NO SMOKING! NO MEN! These are the rules…

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Ever decided to go to a cafe and found a “GIRLS ONLY” sign on the door? 

 

Well… this is exactly what you would find if you go to Spangles Café in Hassanein Heikal Street in Nasr City!

 

Spangles, which was open in August 2006, is considered to be the first only-for-girls café in Cairo. It was open in August 2006 and created a wave of controversy since then. It all started through ‘Ain’ Arabic tabloid; which displayed pictures of girls smoking shisha in an odd looking, smoke filled place.  The article attached to these pictures criticized the café; claiming that the way girls acted in Spangles was surpassing to all the red lines. Randomly gathered assumptions, not too different from Ain’s, made by both men and women who haven't visited the place varied among Spangles being an Islamic cafe; as veiled girls could have a chance to take off their veil, being a cafe that girls can make use of to smoke shisha and even hash without being seen by men, and finally, being a promotion to homosexuality.

 

The actual experience of getting into Spangles, turned out to be different. The first thing one gets to see at the door is a huge male security guard, to keep men from entering the cafe; an act that happened frequently since the café was first open. As one gets in; red, orange and white colors are spread everywhere inside… ranging from the couches, to wooden chairs and kids' corner. A wireless internet connection is available and all workers inside are females including waitresses and chefs; and shisha is prohibited.

 

The owner of Spangles, Mrs. Marwa Ismael; who cares enough to be available in the café since it opens at 10 a.m. till it closes at 11 p.m. every day, says the motive behind the thought of an all girls cafe is to give Egyptian girls and women the freedom to go out and socialize in places that have no men; who might bother them the way they do elsewhere.

 

“It is not an Islamic café, as claimed by many, it is just a girls’ area where they could find comfort and enjoy their privacy” says Marwa, adding that the most common activities that take place in the café are open days; where women get the chance to display clothes and accessories for sale, Birthday parties, Henna parties and Beauty days; where a makeup artist is invited in to provide makeup tips to the attendees. To all these events, loud music is normally a common companion. “We’re not anywhere close to extremists; we’re a moderate café where anything is allowed as long as it is decent and within the limit” she says.

 

Women who want to hold an open day are allowed; as long as they call in and inform Marwa beforehand. All they need to do is pay a 35 Egyptian Pound table rental fee. In case they need to reserve the whole café to ensure exclusivity, they need to pay L.E. 60 and hold an open day. The same applies to Birthday parties; where celebrating without reserving the whole café only requires the L.E. 5 minimum charge per person.  

 

Previously, customers were allowed to get into Spangles and stay as much as they wanted for free; in case they did not order anything to eat or drink. However, now a five Egyptian Pound minimum charge is now needed. It is, according to Marwa, a fair amount that just encourages the idea of ordering at least a drink, as it is impossible to have customers stay all day when they pay nothing, eventually we would not even be able to pay our staff salaries.

 

Fatma and Dina, two 23 year old friends who were sitting and talking on a couch next to a TV set inside, expressed the comfort they enjoyed whenever they visited Spangles. “It feels like home” says Dina, adding that it is a great change to go to a café from time to time- especially when it is that cozy. Fatma says they go twice a week on average, where every time they do not spend less than 3 hours. Both friends agreed that their favorite feature is being able to take off their veil for some time, so they feel more relaxed and comfortable. They also love the fact that they are able to sit and talk all they want without having someone stare at them. Not only that… having a party in Spangles, according to them, proved to be great as they could enjoy the same comfort they have at home; with no family members to intrude their privacy.

 

Spangles is not limited to a certain cuisine; it offers a variety of hot and cold drinks, breakfast menu, hot and cold sandwiches, fried and grilled meals for lunch and dessert. In addition to that, they sell semi-cooked meals; in case women are too busy to cook.

 

Concerning shisha, which is prohibited in the café, Marwa says that encouraging girls and women to ruin their health by providing a place where they could secretly smoke shisha would not be a good idea. In addition, mothers and kids constitute a huge portion of her customers and they would suffer provided that the closed place is all stuffed with smoke.

 

Men are dying to get into the café, and that is why a male guard is always at the door outside. When a press ad was published once, the staff received endless phone calls from men; questioning about the place and fighting for a way to get in, according to Marwa, a man even claimed he just wanted to get in to see if the café was suitable to have his wedding party!

 

Publicity for such a new idea is considered too hard. However, Marwa believes the most effective tool that has been attracting customers the most so far is word of mouth. Not only that, it also attracts newspapers and TV channels and gets them interested to visit and explore what the café is all about… which in turn brings about even more customers and the cycle goes on.

 

Provided there are any upcoming parties or events, Marwa uses SMS, e-mails, flyers and word of mouth to announce the necessary details. She also wants to be active on Facebook soon; so she ensures maximum reach. Having news published online is not going to be new to Marwa, she said; as her customers used to publish information on the café on their websites, causing a Russian media group to go visit the café when they came to Egypt to do the media coverage of the previous Women International day. They learnt about the café online, and were curious to see what it was really about.

 

The idea of having an all girls place is increasing at the moment; as another girls’ café known as “Sabaya” was recently open in Safir Street. The café is owned by veiled actress Hanan Turk and is basically a coiffeur attached to a tiny café, where women could relax while going through the process of having their hair and nails worked on. It is particularly made for veiled women, and that is why men are prohibited from getting in.

 

In Sabaya, even smoking cigarettes is not allowed. The case here seems to be totally religion-based, unlike Spangles, as if a woman is not veiled she is welcomed to stay at the café but is not allowed to have her hair worked on. The staff in Sabaya is not allowed to get involved in any interviews, due to them having been attacked by magazines and tabloids since the café and coiffeur were open.

 

Only time could prove if these cases are exceptional ones, or just a start to a whole wave of sex segregated places in Cairo.

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