New Heliopolis bar sparks controversy over alleged class-based profiling
Photo courtesy of The Garden Official facebook page
By JOANA SABA

CAIRO:  The opening of The Garden, a new bar in the upper-class suburb of Heliopolis, caused a bit of an uproar on social media, although not for the reasons the owners may have hoped.

With the announcement of their opening on Sunday, The Garden — self-described as a “little slice of paradise in the city” — also announced its uber-selective entrance policy, though it’s Facebook page failed to specify what the details of the policy.

Cairo resident Mohannad Ali stated in a Facebook post that he initially entertained the possibility of paying a visit to The Garden, and was happy to receive news that there was no minimum charge – a common requirement in many Egyptian establishments.

But the lack of minimum charge did not necessarily entail an accommodating policy otherwise. Ali said that, in the phone call between him and the bar, “to make reservations they asked us to send them a Facebook message containing links to the Facebook profiles of the people coming, and after checking out our profiles they would confirm our reservation.”

Following the phone conversations, Facebook posts by Ali and other users became suspicious of The Garden’s motives. Several posts on The Garden’s Facebook page alleged that the real motivate behind sending the Facebook pages of prospective guests to the bar was so that they could be profiled based on social class. Many left mocking comments on the page, which were later deleted.

The Garden later responded in a post on their official page Tuesday, stating that “there seems to be some confusion about our reservation policy. Here’s how it works. The first time you reserve with us, you’ll be asked to share your Facebook info so our profile and yours can become friends. This helps us keep you up to date on future events, and allows for a quicker reservation system for your future visits.”

During a phone call with The Cairo Post, The Garden denied that this was indeed what Ali was told. A young man, who at first refused to give his name then said it was Amgad Ahmed, said instead that reservations work through sending a message with the number of attendees and the time of arrival, and the customer would then receive “a profile number.” The profile number is meant to facilitate future reservations.

A user posted saying, “I was really excited about this bar opening because it’s closer to me and I heard you have Coronas, but the Facebook thing kind of weirds me out. I don’t understand why a business would be so intrusive just to let you in the door.”

The Garden responded that “[o]ur door policy is similar to most nightlife establishments in Egypt. Reservation is required mainly on busy nights …”

Indeed, many nightlife establishments in Egypt implement “strict” entrance policies, though the majority of these are often related to gender ratios, and above all, dress policy.

One user commented on Ali’s post saying that she and her friend tried to enter after making reservations, but faced major difficulty, adding that they were most likely only allowed in because a foreigner was with them.

She also claimed that two beers cost 90 EGP (beer can be purchased in certain establishments for as low as 10 EGP per bottle), and that “the essence of the issue is that this is a class-based place, and they want to build a customer base from among the bourgeoisie of Heliopolis.”

Furthermore, dress policies in nightlife establishments often specify that veiled women are not allowed to enter, but a similar controversy arose when the organizers of the American University in Cairo’s after-graduation party prevented veiled girls from entering.

Social media blew up with comparable allegations that the policy was driven by class-profiling and gender discrimination, in a country where 90 percent of women don the veil according to the New York Times.

The organizers defended the decision in a widely circulated email, stating that it is a cocktail party, and as such veiled women should not want to attend.

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