Mounira al-Mahdia, a celebrated 1920s diva. The houseboat of another singer, Badia Masabni, was said to be so popular among Cairo’s elite that a rumor spread at the time that governments were formed aboard.

Back then, there were at least 200 houseboats up and down the Nile. But under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, many of the structures were moved to clear the river for water sports, said Wael Wakil, 58, who was born and raised in the houseboat he still lives on.

That left about 40 boats moored where they sit now, next to Kit Kat, a neighborhood named after a local World War II-era nightclub popular among Allied soldiers.

installed a pair of German spies on one houseboat in the area — with the help, in some tellings, of a belly dancer.

largely open to the public, became crowded with private clubs and cafes.

The authorities have made clear that they want more of those: The houseboat owners say they have been told that they can pay more than $6,500 to temporarily dock elsewhere while they apply for commercial licenses to open cafes or restaurants in their former homes. But that, they argue, is hardly a fair or attractive option.

“They’re destroying the past, they’re destroying the present, and they’re destroying the future, too,” said Neama Mohsen, 50, a theater instructor who has lived on one of the houseboats for three decades. “I see this as a crime, and no one can stop it. They’re taking away our lives as if we’re criminals or terrorists.”

Today, some of the houseboats are owned by politicians and businessmen, others by bohemians, still others by middle-class Egyptians who know no other life.

Mr. Wakil said his family moved to their houseboat in 1961. He remembers growing up fishing off its deck. Whenever he dropped a toy in the Nile, he said, a passing boatman would rescue it.

Now Mr. Wakil, a retired finance manager, has packed up, and is getting ready to move to an apartment his wife owns in the desert.

“But nothing will come close to compensating for this,” he said.

From Ms. Soueif’s favorite place in the house, the dressing room where she gives her grandchildren baths, she can see a mango tree in her riverbank garden that has not fruited for four years. Suddenly, this year, it produced what promises to be a bumper crop.

But this type of mango cannot be picked before mid-July. By then, if nothing changes, she and her houseboat will be gone.

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Egyptology Is Having a Big Moment. But Will Tourists Come?

CAIRO — On a cool morning last November, Egypt’s tourism and antiquities minister stood in a packed tent at the vast necropolis of Saqqara just outside Cairo to reveal the ancient site’s largest archaeological discovery of the year.

The giant trove included 100 wooden coffins — some containing mummies interred over 2,500 years ago — 40 statues, amulets, canopic jars and funerary masks. The minister, Khaled el-Enany, said the latest findings hinted at the great potential of the ancient site and showcased the dedication of the all-Egyptian team that unearthed the gilded artifacts.

But he also singled out another reason the archaeological discoveries were crucial: it was a boon for tourism, which had been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

unearthed an ancient Pharaonic city near the southern city of Luxor that dated back more than 3,400 years.

The discovery came just days after 22 royal mummies were moved to a new museum in a lavish spectacle that was broadcast worldwide. In addition, the discovery of 59 beautifully preserved sarcophagi in Saqqara is now the subject of a recent Netflix documentary; a bejeweled statue of the god Nefertum was found in Saqqara; the 4,700-year-old Djoser’s Step Pyramid was reopened last year after a 14-year, $6.6 million restoration; and progress is apace on the stunning Grand Egyptian Museum, scheduled to open sometime this year.

But the pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the industry, and what had been expected to be a bonanza season became a bleak winter.

Tourism is a crucial part of Egypt’s economy — international tourism revenues totaled $13 billion in 2019 — and the country has been eager to attract visitors back to its archaeological sites.

attacks on tourists, bomb blasts that damaged prominent museums and a downed airliner that killed hundreds of Russian tourists in 2015.

But the sector was steadily recovering, with visitors attracted by both antiquities and the sun-and-sea offerings, growing to over 13 million in 2019 from 5.3 million in 2016. The coronavirus pandemic has reversed these gains, leaving hotels, resorts and cruises empty, popular sites without visitors and revenue, and thousands of tour guides and vendors with drastically reduced incomes or none at all.

“Tourism in Egypt just had one of its best years in 2019 and then came the pandemic which severely impacted it all,” Amr Karim, the general manager for Travco Travel, one of Egypt’s largest tour operators, said in a telephone interview. “Nobody knew what would happen, how we will handle it, how it will affect us. It’s strange.”

The pandemic, he said, disrupted how tour companies operated, how they priced their packages and how to work with hotels and abide by their new hygiene playbooks.

exposed the fragility of Egypt’s health care system, with doctors lamenting shortages in protective equipment and testing kits while patients died from lack of oxygen. With over 12,000 deaths, Egypt also recorded one of the highest fatality rates from the virus in the Arab world.

With a growing number of cases, health officials in Egypt have recently warned of a third wave of the virus. Authorities have also canceled large gatherings and festivals, and promised to fine those not complying with protective measures like mask-wearing, but many Egyptians do not abide by these rules.

Travelers are required to have a negative Covid-19 test taken 72 hours before arriving in Egypt, and hotels are mandated to operate at half capacity.

The crisis affected not just big companies like Travco but also smaller ones that had started betting big on the growing tourism industry.

Passainte Assem established Why Not Egypt, a boutique travel agency, in 2017 by interviewing prospective travelers and customizing itineraries for them. But after the pandemic began, most of her clients, who are from Australia, Canada and the United States, canceled their plans, she said, pushing her to suspend the business for now.

The experience left her feeling that “tourism is not stable at all,” she said. “It cannot be the only source of income. I have to have a side hustle.”

a company trying to revive and preserve traditional Egyptian handicrafts.

offered Egyptians discounts on domestic plane travel, hotels and museum admissions.

But Ahmed Samir, chief executive of the tour company Egypt Tours Portal, said the direct cash support for tourism workers was minimal. With reduced bookings, he was able to keep his employees in his marketing and social media departments on the payroll but at half salary.

“As a kind of sympathy to my employees, we tried to balance,” he said. But still, he added, “most of my friends’ companies closed completely.”

The slowdown in tourist arrivals has left areas usually swamped by tourists quiet.

At the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo, Mahrous Abu Seif, a tour guide, sat waiting for clients one morning. A few small tour groups, including from Russia and China, were going through metal detector scans to go into the museum. But he hoped that more clients would come.

“What can I tell you? We sit here and wait and wait,” he said, throwing his hands in the air and adjusting his sunglasses. “We don’t know what the future holds.”

On the other side of town, at the historic El Fishawy coffee house, a few locals gurgled their water pipes and drank mint tea or Turkish coffee while melodious Quran recitation ascended from a nearby speaker. Located in the centuries-old Khan el Khalili market, the cafe, along with souvenir and jewelry shops, was hit badly by the pandemic.

“I used to bring people here and it would be packed, but look at it now,” Mohamed Said Rehan, a guide with a local company, said of the cafe. “The pandemic is a big problem.”

Mr. Rehan said that he knows many colleagues and friends who had to stay home for months without income or who left the industry altogether. But he still clings to a thread of hope that tourism will pick up soon.

And some tourists have indeed started coming back.

In February, Marcus Zimmermann, a 43-year-old architect from Germany, was visiting Egypt for the first time, stopping first in Cairo and planning trips to the southern city of Luxor, home to the iconic Valley of the Kings. Mr. Zimmermann had hoped to come to Egypt last year with his mother, who dreamed of being an archaeologist, for her 70th birthday. But they had to cancel their plans because of the pandemic.

This year, he decided to come alone but promised to “plan the trip again” with her once she’s vaccinated.

Even though it will be tough attaining the prepandemic figures quickly, people like Mr. Karim who work in the industry hope tourists will start coming back by year’s end.

With all the new discoveries, renovations and the planned opening of new sites and museums, tourists will gradually flock back to Egypt, he said.

“People will start to move. People will start to travel,” he said. “I am optimistic.”

Nada Rashwan and Asmaa Al Zohairy contributed reporting.

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A Ramadan Closer to Normal for 2021

CAIRO — Compared with Ramadan 2020, when mosques around the world were closed for prayer during the holiest month of the year for Muslims, and curfews prevented friends and family from gathering to break the fast, the religious holiday this year offered the promise of something much closer to normal.

“Last year, I felt depressed and I didn’t know how long the pandemic would last,” said Riyad Deis, a co-owner of a spice and dried-fruit shop in Jerusalem’s Old City. On Tuesday, the first day of the Muslim fasting month, its narrow alleys were alive with shoppers browsing Ramadan sweets and worshipers heading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Mr. Deis, 51, who was selling whole pieces of turmeric and Medjool dates to a customer, recalled how empty and subdued the Old City had felt last year as virus cases surged and the authorities closed Al-Aqsa to the public. “Now, I’m relaxed, I have enough money to provide for my family and people are purchasing goods from my shop,” he said. “It’s a totally different reality.”

rising coronavirus infections across many countries.

In Kenya, the authorities have introduced longer curfews, closed bars and schools, restricted gatherings at spaces of worship, and limited travel in and out of five counties including Nairobi, the capital.

For Nairobi residents like Ahmed Asmali, this means a prolonged inability to break the fast with loved ones or attend prayers with larger congregations.

“It’s the second year now that we are in a lockdown,” said Mr. Asmali, a 41-year-old public relations worker. The experience, he said “feels weird. Feels out of place.”

Lebanon Crisis Observatory, a project by the American University in Beirut.

The pandemic still shadows much of the festivities. Shop owners in Jerusalem’s Old City said they were worried that Israel would not allow large numbers of Palestinians from the West Bank, where few have been vaccinated, to visit the Old City this Ramadan, depriving the area of their holiday spending.

Prepandemic, Israel usually allowed tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank to visit Jerusalem on Fridays during the fasting month. The arm of the Israeli government that liaises with the Palestinian Authority said on Tuesday that Israel would allow 10,000 vaccinated Palestinians from the West Bank to pray at the Aqsa on Friday. It also said authorities would permit 5,000 vaccinated Palestinians from the West Bank to make family visits in Israel between Sunday and Thursday next week.

Omar Kiswani, the director of the Aqsa Mosque, said he was overjoyed that the compound was open to worshipers — an estimated 11,000 attended the taraweeh prayers at the compound Monday evening — but he emphasized that people would still need to be careful. He said masks and two meters’ distance between worshipers are required at the mosque, and the indoor and outdoor spaces will be sterilized daily.

“These are times of great happiness,” Mr. Kiswani said. “We hope the blessed Aqsa Mosque will return to its prepandemic glory. But these are also times of caution, because the virus is still out there.”

Vivian Yee reported from Cairo, and Adam Rasgon from Jerusalem. Asmaa al-Omar contributed reporting form Istanbul and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi.

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22 Mummies Are Moved in a Glittering Display in Cairo

CAIRO — Downtown Cairo came to a near standstill Saturday night as 22 mummies were moved from a museum where they had resided for more than a century to a new home, transported atop custom-made vehicles in a glittering, meticulously planned procession.

The fanfare — broadcast live on state television and complete with a military band, a 21-gun salute and a host of Egyptian A-list celebrities — served as both a grand opening of sorts for the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization where the country’s oldest monarchs were set to land and an invitation to tourists to return to Cairo after the pandemic.

“These are the mummies of kings and queens who ruled during Egypt’s golden age,” said Zahi Hawass, a former minister of antiquities who supervised the discovery of tombs that date back thousands of years. “It’s a thrill, everyone will watch.”

Everyone, except many Egyptians.

Along the five-mile path to the new museum lay stretches of working-class neighborhoods that were deliberately hidden from view ahead of the parade, a reminder of the jarring divide between Egypt’s celebrated past and its uncertain present.

Banners proclaiming the “Pharaohs’ Golden Parade” and large national flags prevented television viewers from peering inside Cairo’s impoverished areas and kept local residents from getting a glimpse of the polished, made-for-TV spectacle. In one spot, plastic screens at least 10 feet tall were mounted on scaffolding to close gaps in a cream-colored wall.

“They put it up to hide us,” said Mohammed Saad, a local resident who stood with two friends a few feet behind a barrier that separated them from the newly swept road where the ancestral parade would roll through.

Two security officers confirmed that no one would be allowed to leave nearby neighborhoods during the parade, or to step onto the street to watch. “They can watch on a screen,” one of them offered.

In a television interview, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities credited the president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for conceiving of the public procession as a way to draw tourists back after the coronavirus pandemic brought international travel to a halt last year.

But the spectacle also underlined the economic and social divisions in Egypt’s capital.

“There is a tendency to try to show a better picture instead of fixing the existing reality,” Ahmed Zaazaa, an urban planner, said of the government’s public image efforts. “The government says they are making reforms, but the vast majority of people in Cairo who live in working-class neighborhoods are excluded.”

Egyptian television broadcast nonstop coverage of the parade preparations, emphasizing how the news was echoing abroad, pairing the visuals with dramatic theme music and a stream of information about the 22 kings and queens who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.

The ancient royals who were on the move included Ramses II, the longest reigning pharaoh, and Queen Hatshepsut, one of Egypt’s few female pharaohs.

After sunset, crowds gathered in downtown Cairo, among them enthusiastic young families who brought their children along in hopes of getting a glimpse of the historic moment.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. These are our ancestors.” said Sarah Zaher, who came with three friends.

But many of those who gathered were met by police barricades and turned back.

A uniformed officer yelled, “If you want to watch, go watch on television.” Disappointed, the crowds retreated into nearby coffee houses to watch on television or on their phones.

Nada Rashwan and Dawlat Magdy contributed reporting.

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The Freedom of Natural Curls: Egypt’s Quiet Rebellion

CAIRO — There’s a TV commercial from the 1980s that some Egyptians remember well: Two women stand at a mirror, one with thick, dark curls, the other draped in sleek, glossy tresses.

“My hair is curly,” says the first, pouting slightly as she struggles with a comb. “I would love to style it nicely for this wedding.”

“Curly hair — not a problem,” the other woman reassures her. “Come, we still have time.”

One application of Glatt Schwarzkopf straightening cream later, the first woman is back at the mirror, the comb gliding easily through her smoothed-out hair. “My hair,” she coos, “is lovely.”

Hair Addict, an online forum and hair-care company with about 500,000 social media followers across Egypt and the Persian Gulf. “Then when I did, I got so mad at myself and society. Now when I look at natural hair, I see the amount of character it reflects and the amount of independence.”

@curlytalks on social media, had posted that “the same people who used to call my hair ‘mankoosh’ and ‘akrat’” — which roughly translate to “messy” and “coarse” in Egyptian Arabic — “are the same ones asking how I style it now coz they’re trying to do the same.”

cascade of golden curls. Natural hair underwent a resurgence among Black women in the United States around the same time, giving rise to curl-specific products and stylists. Social media brought that shift to Egypt and helped nurture movements toward all-natural beauty products, wellness and self-acceptance.

The soccer star Mohamed Salah and his Afro have become national icons in Egypt, and curly hairstyles now appear regularly on the red carpet at El Gouna Film Festival, an annual extravaganza on the Red Sea.

For many, the most important factor was practicality. Whether by heat or by chemicals, repeated straightening can weaken and harm hair, causing it to break and fall out.

After Ms. Gawish started posting about treatments made of natural ingredients in 2016, her Facebook following leapt from 5,000 users to 80,000 in just a few months, she said. As she and her followers began growing their curls out, they traded tips and sympathy.

What should they do about an upcoming wedding? A job interview? A boss who eyed their curls and told them, “This isn’t the right company for you”?

Ghada el-Hindawy, 44, opened G Curls after researching treatments for her daughter’s curly hair, not wanting her to suffer through straightening.

The cultural disapproval of curly hair “is very harmful to the hair and to the soul,” Ms. el-Hindawy said. “When you go curly, it makes your hair healthier. Now people want to go natural, face themselves, accept themselves.”

The clientele at G Curls, in a suburban development called Beverly Hills, tends to skew young, well-off and well-traveled, with an education from one of Cairo’s international schools.

But that, too, has started to change.

Ms. el-Hindawy said that in the last year the salon had begun to draw more middle-class and veiled clients. Many of Hair Addict’s followers come from Upper Egypt, far from the curly hair hot spots of Cairo and Alexandria.

Men, too, are showing up at G Curls and in curly Facebook groups, despite rigid gender norms that frown on male grooming.

In Abdelwahab Badawy’s village in rural Menoufia, in the Nile Delta, the local curly population has grown in the last seven years from one man (him) to 10. As far as he can tell, that is, since the women are veiled.

When he was growing up, his father prescribed a standard-issue close-cropped style that Mr. Badawy, 24, an engineering student, thought made his ears stick out. When he started growing out his mass of coils at 17, the experiment was such a success — girls noticed him, guys asked for tips — that he was undeterred when a professor mocked him, when others quoted a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that called for hair to be evenly cut, or when a stranger in the street yelled, “Should I get you a lice comb?”

“No,” he retorted. “Keep it for your mom.” (He said they quickly came to blows.)

Ahmed Sayed, 26, a photographer and engineering student in Cairo, used to comb or blow-dry his hair straight, gelling it for hold. Every time he washed before praying, he would have to redo the entire process, visit a hairdresser or simply leave it disheveled.

Going natural a few years ago saved him money and hair damage. It did not hurt that his hairstyle resembled that of Egypt’s most worshiped soccer player, or perhaps — as Mr. Sayed learned after some research — his ancient Egyptian ancestors, some of whom styled their hair into elaborate curls and plaits.

“In Egypt, we have this complex about foreigners where people want to look more Western,” he said. “It’s important to me to have my look reflect my heritage and where I come from.”

Modern Egypt is still a different story. After graduation, Mr. Sayed will begin his 18-month mandatory military service, where, he knows, he will be forced to shave his head.

Nada Rashwan and Farah Saafan contributed reporting.

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