The other night I went out with a group of people to a private dinner club hidden away at the top of a residential building in Garden City, a middle-class area of Cairo where many foreign embassies are (with, not surprisingly, a very heavy security detail). A Sudanese waiter welcomed us into the vast, sumptuously appointed flat. It used to belong to Hoda Shaarawi, an Egyptian feminist leader, born in 1879, who wrote poetry in Arabic and French, and was the first Egyptian woman to remove her veil in public, in 1923.
An oud player was performing in one room, while corny pop tunes – ‘Feelings’, ‘Blue Moon’ – blared from the stereo in another. We sat down, and were greeted by another Sudanese waiter. Was every waiter at the club Sudanese? ‘They are Darfuris,’ my host said, a homage, he explained, to old world colonial aesthetics (and hierarchy). Our waiter wore a name tag: R. Reagan. And indeed the name of this man, born in Sudan in 1983, was Ronald Reagan.