Egypt Independent

Streets of Cairo: Emad Eddin, once a hub of entertainment in downtown



Among downtown shopping streets, Emad Eddin is one of the oldest and the location of the "Golden Age” of the Egyptian entertainment industry. A number of stories were told about the reason behind the naming of this street, but none of them were deemed accurate enough.
 
Without planning which course to take in my street tour, Naguib al-Rihani theater happened to be my first destination. It was one of the most remarkable in Egyptian history. Legendary actors once stood on its stage to give their charismatic performances. 
 
Al-Rihani took over in 1934 after Youssef Wahbi, a leading stage and cinema actor and director, faced a financial crisis and failed to pay the rent. The theater was originally rented by Wahbi, who converted it from the Radio cinema into an elegant playhouse in 1922. The following year, the theater took its place in Egyptian theatrical history, with an opening performance of The Madam, starred in by Wahbi. 
 
Though al-Rihani rented the theater for long time, it was known as the Ritz while he was alive. In 1952, after his death, the government re-named it to commemorate his great contributions to Egyptian drama.
 
Standing in front of the building, I felt a shiver ran down my spine as my mind turned back time to the Egyptian cultural scene's magnificent era. The current gloomy status of the theater, however, soon woke me up: it has been out of action since 25 January revolution started.    
 
Al-Rihani is not the only landmark in this street that has lost its glory. Mohamed Farid theater was one of the famous playhouses, and is now Cinema Renaissance. The theater, a couple of blocks from al-Rihani, was named after a prominent writer.
 
For many decades, Emad Eddin was regarded the vibrant center of Cairene nightlife. Both sides were packed with cinemas, theaters, nightclubs and bars. Most of the nightclubs were third-rate bars, or cabarets, where amateur artists and dancers used to perform. The street was controlled by thugs whose job was protecting them.
 
Cosmos is one of the oldest cinemas on the street, but was moved in 1980 to a nearby site, next to Mohamed Farid theater, for renovation. It still preserves a good status for downtown's residents among the other old cinemas.
 
Cinemas Ritz and Lido were among the first movie theaters established during the 1940s, but both were closed down long time ago. During the eighties, the number of cinemas increased dramatically, and multiplexes such as Cinema Karim emerged.
 
Emad Eddin is now a quiet, dimly-lit street with a small number of stores on each side. But up above loom buildings still gloriously displaying the sophisticated Khedivial styles of the 1930s and 1940s.