What is this? Where are we fallen? Save that it is more vulgar, it might be Nice, or the Riviera, or Interkalken, or any other of those towns of carnival whither the bad taste of the whole world comes to disport itself in the so-called fashionable seasons. But in these quarters, on the other hand, which belong to the foreigners and to the Egyptians rallied to the civilisation of the West, all is clean and dry, well cared for and well kept. There are no ruts, no refuse. The fifteen million pounds have done their work conscientiously.
Everywhere is the blinding glare of the electric light; monstrous hotels parade the sham splendour of their painted facades; the whole length of the streets is one long triumph of imitation, of mud walls plastered so as to look like stone; a medley of all styles, rockwork, Roman, Gothic, New Art, Pharaonic, and, above all, the pretentious and the absurd. Innumerable public-houses overflow with bottles; every alcoholic drink, all the poisons of the West, are here turned into Egypt with a take-what-you-please.
And taverns, gambling dens and houses of ill-fame. And parading the side-walks, numerous Levantine damsels, who seek by their finery to imitate their fellows of the Paris boulevards, but who by mistake, as we must suppose, have placed their orders with some costumier for performing dogs.
This then is the Cairo of the future, this cosmopolitan fair! Good heavens! When will the Egyptians recollect themselves, when will they realise that their forebears have left to them an inalienable patrimony of art, of architecture and exquisite refinement; and that, by their negligence, one of those towns which used to be the most beautiful in the world is falling into ruin and about to perish?
And nevertheless amongst the young Moslems and Copts now leaving the schools there are so many of distinguished mind and superior intelligence! When I see the things that are here, see them with the fresh eyes of a stranger, landed but yesterday upon this soil, impregnated with the glory of antiquity, I want to cry out to them, with a frankness that is brutal perhaps, but with a profound sympathy:
“Bestir yourselves before it is too late. Defend yourselves against this disintegrating invasion—not by force, be it understood, not by inhospitality or ill-humour—but by disdaining this Occidental rubbish, this last year’s frippery by which you are inundated. Try to preserve not only your traditions and your admirable Arab language, but also the grace and mystery that used to characterise your town, the refined luxury of your dwelling-houses. It is not a question now of a poet’s fancy; your national dignity is at stake. You are Orientals—I pronounce respectfully that word, which implies a whole past of early civilisation, of unmingled greatness—but in a few years, unless you are on your guard, you will have become mere Levantine brokers, exclusively preoccupied with the price of land and the rise in cotton.”