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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Imtithal Fawzy: Extortion During the Golden Era

 

By Priscilla Adum

 

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Protection rackets were the norm in Egypt during the early part of the 20th century. Most of the club owners in those days were forced to pay thugs to "protect" their clubs though it's not quite clear who they promised to protect them from, since the worst and most dangerous criminals were the "protectors" themselves. Those who refused to pay faced retaliation and many times even death. The police did nothing to stop them and mostly turned a blind eye.

This is what happened to famous dancer and businesswoman Imtithal Fawzy when she opened her nightclub in Cairo. After her murder, Egyptian newspapers were filled with articles and reports about the crime.

This picture is from an article in Al Ahram, May 23, 1936, the day after her murder. It appeared on page 11. The title of the article is "The Slaughter of a Dancer in a Public Casino Because She Refused To Pay For Protection".

According to the article, Fawzy and fellow businesswoman Mary Mansour had opened a club in partnership above the famous El Bosfour Casino in Cairo. Their club was located in a rented space on the rooftop of the El Bosfour Club. Imtethaal was the one who managed the casino. On the very first day of its opening, Imtethaal was visited by known thug and extortionist Fouad El Shami who demanded that she pay him 4 pounds per month for the protection of her new club. She told him quite clearly that she could not afford to pay him because she'd had too many expenses with the new club but she promised him she'd help him. [Meaning that she would pay him what she could as soon as she was able to.]

The following day El Shami visited the sala again and demanded payment, threatening to destroy the club and to kill Imtethaal if she did not comply. He and his henchmen sat in her sala all night, consuming the most expensive wines and refusing to pay for anything. So Imtethaal gave orders that they not be allowed to enter.

After six days of continued harassment and threats, one of El Shami's men named Kamal El Hariri attacked and stabbed Imtethaal with a sharp object and hit her on the head as she walked down the corridor. She fell to the floor, severely wounded. Her treatment and recovery required more than 20 days. El Hariri was arrested but subsequently released on his own recognizance.

Imtithal

Fawzy continued to work even while undergoing treatment for her wounds and recovering from the attack, but she noticed that the thugs kept coming into her club, and they continued to threaten and harass her. So she sent a telegram to her local public representative and asked him for protection against them.

At 2:00 p.m. on the day of the murder, Kamal El Hariri called Imtethaal's home. Her mother answered the phone, so he advised her to make her daughter pay them the money they wanted; otherwise, she would be killed that night. Fawzy then went straight to the Azbekiya police department and reported this latest threat against her life and asked them for protection. However, their response to her was that it was not their duty to protect people but rather to catch criminals after they had committed a crime.

At 7:00 p.m. Ms. Fawzy went to her sala. After she had performed some comedy skits, and while she was still onstage, she noticed one of the thugs named Hassan Ibrahim sitting among the audience. She ordered that he be removed from the sala, so her employees removed him forcefully. However, he returned once again some time later after buying a ticket at the door and he sat in the last row.

Then, as Imtethaal walked to the café at about 8:45 p.m., Hassan Ibrahim took a broken-off glass bottleneck that he had concealed in his clothing and he slashed her neck with it. She screamed and fell to the floor. Her mother, who had been with her and was following just a few steps behind, fell to the floor on top of her daughter screaming hysterically. The Azbekiya police department, who were only a few steps away from the club, were summoned. The murderer tried to escape but he was caught by members of the crowd that had gathered, and the murder weapon was recovered as well. Imtethaal was quickly taken to Kasr El Aini hospital but as police were still investigating the scene of the crime, they received word that she had died on the way to the hospital.

The public representative interrogated witnesses as well as the killer at the police station and asked to see the complaint that the the victim had filed with the police department before her death. However, the witnesses were reluctant to talk because they were afraid and they knew that the police couldn't provide any sort of protection for them if they did talk. The police then went to the homes of all the men involved in the extortion ring and arrested them all, including their ringleader Fouad El Shami.

Ms. Fawzy had been known for her creativity and for her kindheartedness.

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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