Gezira Sporting CLUB

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Country club in Cairo.

Long a symbol of British imperialism and insularity in Egypt, the Gezira, as it is usually called, was founded in 1882 and originally limited its membership to high-ranking British civil servants in the Egyptian government and officers of the army of occupation. Between the two world wars, the club's rosters also listed the names of titled European aristocrats wintering in Cairo, members of the diplomatic corps, prominent Levantine Jews and Christians, and Egyptian Muslims and Copts, many of whom were close to the palace. The flavor of the club during its British heyday has been admirably transmitted in memoirs written by former foreign residents of the city, in travel literature, and in such works of fiction as Olivia Manning's Levant Trilogy, which is set in Egypt's capital.

The exclusive and exclusionary character of the club was maintained until after World War II, when the tide of nationalism and a rising indigenous
bourgeoisie forced its Egyptianization in January 1952. The ethos and structure of the club were further altered during the anti-Western years of the Nasser regime. In the early 1960s, the Gezira was both figuratively and literally truncated when the government, in a tactic calculated as a humiliation, forced it to permanently yield half of its grounds to a politicized athletic institution established to promote sports among the masses called the Ahli, or National Sports Club. Insult was added to injury when the Sadat regime built a suspended highway over the remaining nine-hole golf course and six-furlong racetrack to commemorate its performance in the 1973 Arab-Israel War.

Despite its contraction and urbanization, the Gezira still offers most of the sports and games practiced by its founders: golf, squash, bowls, croquet, riding, and even cricket. The last is played almost exclusively by Indian and Pakistani residents of Cairo. Horse racing, one of the club's original raisons d'être, takes place during the winter season. Polo, however, which led to the founding of the Gezira as a gift from Egypt's viceroy to the officers of the British army of occupation, is no longer played for lack of grounds, players, and schooled ponies.

With the passing of Nasserism, the Gezira regained a small measure of its colonial grandeur, catering mostly to nouveau-riche Egyptians and a few foreign technocrats.

See also nasser, gamal abdel; sadat, anwar al-.


Grafftey-Smith, Lawrence. Bright Levant. London: J. Murray, 1970.

Oppenheim, Jean-Marc R. "Twilight of a Colonial Ethos: The Alexandria Sporting Club, 18901956." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1990.

jean-marc r. oppenheim