by Luna

by Luna



Blog Intro

Hello, I'm Luna, and I'd like to welcome you to "Kisses from Kairo,"* my blog about living and working as an American belly dancer in Cairo.

Life in Cairo isn't easy for dancers, foreigners, women, or even Egyptians. It is, however, always exciting. That’s why after living here for seven years, I've decided to share my experiences with the world. From being contracted at the Semiramis Hotel to almost being deported, not a day has gone by without something odd or magical happening. I will therefore fill these pages with bits of my history in Cairo—my experiences, successes, mistakes, and observations. Admittedly, my time here has been rather unique, so I want to stress that while everything I write is true, my experiences do not necessarily reflect the lives of other dancers.

In addition to my life as a belly dancer, I will write about developments in costuming, performances, festivals, and, of course, the dance itself. I will also make frequent references to Egyptian culture. I should note that I have a love/hate relationship with Egypt. If I make any criticisms about the country, please keep in mind that I do so with the utmost love, respect, and most of all, honesty. Egypt has become my home, so I want to avoid romanticizing and apologizing for social maladies, as most foreigners tend to do. Nothing could be more misguided, patronizing, or insulting.

I hope you find this blog informative, insightful and entertaining, and that we can make this as interactive as possible. That means I'd love to hear from you. Send me your comments, questions, complaints, suggestions, pics, doctoral dissertations, money, etc., and I will get back to you. Promise. :)~

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Being American

Last year, I bought some glittery red,white and blue fabric and made an American flag belly dance costume.  I never intended to do that, but when I saw lycra stars and stripes while fabric shopping, I just couldn’t resist.  It was as though the fabric were saying, “make me.”  Politics aside, it is a beautiful flag.  And, I’m crazy like that. :)  
The costume was absolutely stunning, and I performed in it quite a bit.  At first, I was a little reluctant to wear it, given Egyptians’ unfavorable views towards the United States.  But one day, I decided to take a chance.  The worst that could happen, I figured, was I’d be booed off stage.  I was willing to take that risk.  To my surprise, nothing like that happened.  In fact, my audience started clapping and cheering the moment I entered the room.  Many of them even begged to be photographed with me.

I’ve since worn that flag loads of times.  And I’ve always gotten the same reaction.   It’s thus become one of my more popular costumes.  I’ve even been requested to wear it at certain private functions.  The last time someone asked me to perform in it was about three weeks ago, when I danced for former Egyptian Minister of Interior Ahmed Rushdie, and when I danced on Egypt’s new 24-hour belly dance TV channel, “El-Tit” (Don’t ask! :P).  The TV shoot was particularly funny, because out of 10 costumes I brought with me, the production staff insisted I wear the flag.  On both occasions, I politely declined.

Despite what a crowd pleaser my American flag costume is, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it these days.  Especially on Egyptian TV!  Times are different.  I never thought I’d actually say this, but being American in Cairo is starting to get a little uncomfortable.  Yes, my Arabic is quite convincing, and no, I don’t go around shoving democracy down people’s throats, but with all the political finger pointing going on these days, I feel a bit uneasy divulging my nationality (and wearing it on my body! :D).
Which isn’t normal for me, or for Egypt.  Egyptians are known for being some of the most hospitable people on the planet.  They’re great at distinguishing between governments and ordinary citizens, and have always been cool about discussing politics.  So much so that I would roll my eyes every time a fellow American asked me, quite incredulously, “but aren’t you afraid to tell people there that you’re American?” 
Unfortunately, I can no longer roll my eyes when someone asks me this question.  For as much as it irritates me to feed into some Americans’ small-mindedness, being American in Egypt just isn’t the same anymore.  I spent the past 8 years traveling to, studying and living in bastions of anti-Americanism such as Yemen, Syria, Cuba, and Egypt.  And I never thought twice about saying I’m American.  Here and now, however, I’m starting to think twice.  And thrice. 
Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t exactly feel threatened.  (Yet.)  And who knows?  Maybe my feelings are totally unjustified.  It’s just that popular Egyptian opinion is getting a little xenophobic.  Especially towards Americans.  Currently, word on the “Arab Street” (and in the media and universities and elsewhere) has it that every outburst of violence in Egypt is the work of “outside forces.”  The main culprits are the United States and Israel (obviously), Iran, Germany, and (strangely) Qatar. ;)  Everything from last week’s soccer massacre to the revolution itself is blamed on foreigners who want to see Egypt torn into smithereens.  Why, I don’t know, but that’s what lots of Egyptians are saying. 
Of course, the powers that be have a lot to do with this.  They’ve mastered the Middle Eastern political art of diversion, which is basically blaming the U.S. and Israel for all of its misdeeds and failures.  Luckily for the army, this tactic is proving effective, as Egyptians tend to be pretty credulous.  Especially when it comes to politics. Start a rumor about America and its “sidekick” and it will be believed.   Skepticism doesn’t go far here.  
Egyptians would also rather believe that someone else is responsible for the episodes of violence that erupt from time to time.  Partially because of the world’s long history of interference in Middle Eastern affairs, and partially because Egyptians have shocked their national conscience.  Egyptians are bearing witness to crimes they never thought could happen on their soil.  From last week’s soccer massacre to Muslim-Christian violence to the whole darn revolution itself, it’s psychologically more convenient to blame unseen foreign forces than blame themselves.  More and more, it seems like very few Egyptians are willing to claim responsibility for the revolution and everything that’s happened thereafter. 
The latest in a long list of catastrophes involving foreigners this past week is the debacle of the “Cairo 19.” These are 19 American NGO workers being held in Egypt against their will on trumped up charges of spying.  They’re also being accused of using “illegally procured funds” to foment violence against the regime… i.e. paying Egyptian “thugs” to create the soccer massacre, to initiate gang rape against women in the Jan. 25th celebrations, etc.  Now, I’m no supporter of these democracy missionaries that work for NGO’s (for several reasons), but somehow, I find it hard to believe that the U.S. has an interest in promoting civil unrest.  Keeping relations with Egypt friendly has long been a pillar of U.S. foreign policy.  It keeps Egypt from attacking Israel, and grants the U.S. access to the Suez Canal.  Nothing’s changed there.  Rather, what seems to be happening is that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is trying to deflect attention from itself for the massive failure of security at last week’s soccer match.  That disaster, which resulted in the deaths of more than 70 people, dealt a major blow to SCAF, which was being accused of everything from neglect to conspiracy.  Blaming the deaths on “unseen foreign forces” (namely the U.S. and Israel), was the army’s brilliant way of taking itself out of the spotlight. It’s so obvious.  Yet what kills me is how readily Egyptians believe these rumors—how readily they’re willing to believe the same people who mow them down with bullets when they protest.  I mean, come on people.  It’s not rocket science.
None of this surprises me by the way.  Even Mubarak used the U.S. as a scapegoat whenever he wanted to divert negative attention from himself.  But what makes this blame game a little different and a little scary now, is that people are taking politics into their own hands.  Unlike during Mubarak’s tenure, when politics was the sole domain of the regime, people are now staging protests and at times engaging in violence based on their newfound political zeal.  This is good and bad.  Good that Egyptians have found the means and the will to shape the future.  Bad when they take the law into their own hands and hurt innocent people based on conspiracy theories. 
Admittedly, it’s not helping that those “unseen foreign forces” are, in all actuality, not unseen.  People like the “Cairo 19” are not invisible U.S. agents of destruction.  They are ordinary American expats living and working in Egypt.  They have names and faces and Egyptian friends.  And those 3 stooges who flung Molotov cocktails at Egyptian security forces a couple of months ago… they were American students who came here to study Arabic.  They also had names, faces and Egyptian friends.  Somebody needs to tell these pinheads that this is not their fight.  And that they’re spoiling it for the rest of us.  While we appreciate their “commitment to democracy,” they’re blurring the traditional distinction between the American government and American people.  And thus doing more harm than good.  
Though I highly doubt the “Cairo 19” are guilty of espionage and sabotage, I do feel that maybe it’s time for them to think about closing up shop.  For starters, the current political climate in Egypt isn’t exactly conducive to democracy promotion.  Most Egyptians don’t want democracy.  They equate it with Western moral decadence.  The army sure as heck doesn’t want democracy.  That would curtail its powers.  So maybe we Americans should stop shoving it down their throats.  Besides, it doesn’t make us look good.  Especially since we’re not consistent about it.  We’re not, for example, pushing for democracy in Syria.  As the Egyptians have been asking all along,“intu malku?”  Meaning, “what’s it to you (Americans) (whether we have democracy or not?).”  I think it’s a question worth asking. 
Aside from Egyptian opinion vis-à-vis democracy, Americans should be thinking about something else.  Democracy + Middle East = religious extremism.  That’s neither in the interest of the people, nor of the United States.  It’s so simple.  What’s not to get?  Or do we just have to win every battle, physical and ideological. 
If being American means believing that democracy can be imposed anywhere and everywhere, then I’m an AmeriCAN’T.  We can’t implant democracy on parts of the world that have no history of secularism, human rights, and term limits.  And we can’t keep meddling in other countries’ internal affairs.  What we can do is try to provide the best example of democracy in our own country, hoping that others around the world will one day see the light.  Until then, it might be better to let nature take its course. 

*For the record, I’ve been wanting to make an Egyptian flag costume for centuries now.  Yet many Egyptians advised me not to do that, as dancing in their flag would be taken as a huge sign of disrespect.  Even though I see it as a sign of adoration. 


  1. That kind of outside blame is present way too much. Although Japan is better (did it really take Korean pop culture idols to change the way Japanese viewed Koreans??), in the 1923 Kanto earthquake, the government blamed Koreans as the cause and many of them were killed... Seriously??

    As a fellow american't, I wholeheartedly agree with you. No one can tell another what is right for them. Just make nice wih them. But I dislike how people and government get lumped in together.

  2. Continued.... Just because I'm American doesn't mean I'm an a-hole like my government might be. I guess people have trusted government so long, they feel scared NOT to trust it.

  3. It's unfortunate that citizens are held responsible for the actions of their governments. In this case, however, it's more like the Egyptian government looking to save face after one too many failures and embarrassments. And we all know the best way to save face here is to stand up to the Great Santan.

  4. My comment on my blog,, about your text colors. Unusually brilliant choices. "Great blogger. Has enough sense to have text as very light gray on black. Great for tired eyes. (White background is a familiarty fetish which greatly reduces reading ability in order to imitate an obsolete technology. “User-friendly” really means “non-user friendly” and “real-user frustration”.) Lord willing, will switch to very light blue on very dark blue on this blog soon. Not being as good looking as the Cairo lady, I am driven to friendlier colors."

    1. Appreciate your comments and sharing my blog. :)

  5. Ahmed Rushdie!!! I was under the impression the guy was dead already.. Is it possible I ask you about the occasion in which you danced for the man. Your remark is quiet ambiguous.. Pardon my nosiness but since the man is always referred to as the best ever minister of interior ppl here are most interested in following his steps. Once again, pardon my nosiness :-)

  6. And I should repeat that again am enjoying your posts.. Thanks :-)

    1. Thanks for your comments Amr, and I'm glad you like my blog. :) Yes Ahmed Rushdie is still alive and well. I was called to perform at his son's birthday party, so I got to meet the whole family. REALLY nice people, and he was so sweet. I'm really lucky to have had that opportunity. :)