Dear ...,

When I heard of Cicurel, the famous Cairene department stores (pronounced Shikuril in Arabic) mentioning in an post on a Yahoo group, it was natural that a flood of memories invaded my mind. These type of stores were prevalent in the forties (1940's), and many of them even going back to the beginning of the 20th century. 

I always considered that advertising was not only a communication tool between companies and their customers, but also a social actor and a cultural artifact. Many of the products you mentioned reflected a cosmopolitan society transplanted in Egypt.

I recall that, the Shemla department store was adjacent to it's main competitor and rival, Cicurel, both situated on Shari` Fuw'ad (today renamed 26th of July street).  The unrelenting competition between these stores was legendary. In a way, their competitive rivalry echoes what you might find in big American cities such as Jordan Marsh and Filenes in Boston; and Macy's and Bloomingdale's in New York.

When you mentioned the "X-Ray Machine to examine how comfortable your feet will be in your new shoes".  I recall vividly, that in the Buster Brown Shoe Section in the Cicurel shoe department, you could put your feet in a standup machine and could look at a live X-Ray of your feet inside the shoes to see if they fit OK.

All Buster Brown shoe departments had this "novelty" as a part of their promotion.  Does anyone recall their motto, recited by a lad with a pageboy hair cut and his dog: "Hi, I'm Buster Brown, I live in a shoe. Here's my dog, Tige, he lives in there, too?"   Believe it or not this was happening in Cairo, Egypt, while a good friend of mine in the states said he experienced the same thing in the small Midwestern town he grew up in during the 1940s. 

Cicurel, Shemla, along with Gattegno and Hannaux were the cream de la crème of fashionable department Stores in pre and post WW II Cairo. Daoud `Ades, Salon Vert, Carnaval de Venise, Pontremoli, Rivoli, and Benzion followed in elegance and diversity. Many of these were established after the British occupied Egypt in 1882.

It was a time in Egypt that favored a special class of people and type of foreigners, many of them refugees, Jews from Central Europe, Izmir (Turkey) , Syrian  (shawam) and Greek immigrants that managed to transplant a flavor of little Europe in the midst of Egypt.  These were, at the time, Egypt's cosmopolitan society which yielded considerable commercial and financial clout.

The attempt to create a European atmosphere, though mesmerizing, was artificial and over time could not be sustained as it did not relate to the average Egyptian consumer.  To my knowledge, only Orosdi-Back AKA  Omar Effendi  and Bata  shoes catered to the Egyptian masses and had stores present in all Egyptian cities in the mudiriyat or governorates.

Along came  the various the "wabours"  Kerosene ghaz stoves both regular and the "Primus" with their Ibrat wabour, a sort of a tin hand with a needle at the end used to choke the stove, and the sibirtayah. In rural area the "Klobe" a Kerosene run lantern reigned supreme. 

Other main products of this period, I recall, were the famous Coutarelli cigarettes with their fancy square boxes and golden paper wraps,  ICA chewing gum, Kolynos toothpaste, Palmolive  and Lux hand soaps, Cream Nivea, al-Alfy kharazan (rutan) chairs. Soft drinks were produced by Spathis ( in Cairo) and Blue Cross (in Alexandria).  In the food industry, the macaroni industries of Melachrinou, Antoniadis were well known.

Cheese and butter production of Archyriou, Roussoglou, Groppi and Tahta (Antoniadis) and Paleoroutas. Chocolate-Biscuits and Toffee producers were: Groppi, Krystal, Daloghlou, Roussos, Repapis and Quaydir wa Khatiyb (situated fil mamar al-Tugariy); Oil-soaps- vegetable fats (Salt & Soda) producers like Zerbinis and the indispensable popular Nabulsiy Shahin soap for washing women's hair were all based in Kafr Al-Zayyat.

Finally, not to forget the many Egyptian movie posters which were individually painstaking painted and calligraphed by hand.

All of this foreign influence came to a crashing end in the space of one day.

On January 26, 1952, I personally witnessed this event, where these stores were all torched during the Black Saturday riots that erupted in Cairo in retaliation to the British massacre of Egyptian policemen in al-'Isma`iyliyah the day before.

The stores were later rebuilt, however their old splendor and luster was never to be recaptured.  Then came the nationalization of these department stores and  their joining the public sector in the 1960's -1990's before  they were recently sold, once again to the private sector.

It is interesting how advertising, as a cultural artifact, had reflected a vanishing Cosmopolitan society which once ruled Egypt in the distant past. For the few elitist socialites, the period was heaven on earth; to the majority of Egyptians, the period  represented a troubling time, full of deprivation and utter humiliation. 

Many thanks for the poster for sharing these amazing photos, they are effective memory triggers.


* ( wabour :the Egyptian slang version of vapor while "sibirtayah"  referring to spirits (alcohol run portable stove). 





The Egyptian Chronicles is a cooperative effort by a group of Egyptian authors pooling together their talents for the sake of Egypt's Future.  Articles contained in these pages are the personal views and/or work of the authors, who bear the sole responsibility of the content of their work. This Monthly Electronic Magazine is a non-profit, commercial free zone and is answerable to no one.

 The March 2007 ISSUE


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