Midnight in Cairo

Midnight in Cairo

The Female Stars of Egypt’s Roaring ’20s

9780863563133 April 2021 Hardback 352pp 16 black and white

About the Book

1920s Cairo: singers were pressing hit records, dramatic troupes were springing up and cabarets were packed – a counterculture was on the rise. In bars, hash-dens and music halls, people of all backgrounds came together as a passionate group of artists captivated Egyptian society.

Of these performers, Cairo’s biggest stars were female, and they asserted themselves on the stage like never before. Two of the most famous troupes were run by women; Badia Masabni’s dancehall became the hottest nightspot in town; pioneer of Egyptian cinema Aziza Amir made her stage debut; and legendary singer Oum Kalthoum first rose to fame. It is these women, who knew both the opportunities and prejudices that this world offered, who best reveal this cosmopolitan and raucous city’s secrets.

Midnight in Cairo tells the thrilling story of Egypt’s interwar nightlife and entertainment industry through the lives of its pioneering women. Introducing an eccentric cast of characters, it brings to life a world of revolutionary ideas and provocative art – one which laid the foundations of Arab popular culture today. It is a story of modern Cairo as we have never heard it before.

About the Author

Raphael Cormack has a PhD in Egyptian theatre from the University of Edinburgh and is currently a visiting researcher at Columbia University, New York. He is an award-winning editor and translator and has written on Arabic culture for the London Review of Books, Prospect and the TLS, among others. He is the editor of The Book of Cairo and the co-editor of The Book of Khartoum.


‘An utterly unique book, teeming with vividly recounted stories, at times hilarious and at times tragic. These were true feminists avant la lettre who defied the societal norms and authorities of their time. This inspiring gem of a book gripped me from beginning to end.’
Hanan al-Shaykh

‘Insightful and fascinating … Cormack highlights an important period in Egypt’s modern history when its cosmopolitan culture was characterised by a tolerance of all races and religions … A must-read.’
Alaa Al Aswany

‘A spectacular parade of the extraordinary, bold and brash Egyptian women who shot to fame in the early years of globalised celebrity culture.’
The Times

‘A revelation … in this tremendous act of historical discovery, Cormack has unearthed the regal figures and buried treasures of Cairo’s golden age. He is the Howard Carter of the demi-monde.’
The Telegraph

Midnight in Cairo delivers a place, time and people you’ll wish you’d personally known. … Cormack deftly outlines the shifts in political mood and popular tastes that Cairo’s entertainment scene both responded to and inspired.’

‘A captivating journey through [Cairo’s] bars, cafes, cabaret clubs and music halls during a magical era when some of its biggest stars were women.’
The Herald

‘Fascinating … Midnight in Cairo is a fizzing tale of an underexplored period ... [These female performers] changed the terms of Egyptian popular culture and blazed a path for women.’
David Gardner, Financial Times