To Stop Cairo from Smoking

There have been various articles and reports for a while now about how this is happening, or how it’s not happening. Is it actually happening now? Seems not, entirely, since the ban reported on has been flaunted and overturned before.

To illuminate this point, I’ll refer to Eugene Rogan’s superb new history, “The Arabs,” which I started reading in Beirut during a recent visit over Eid.

In mid-18th century Damascus, the Ottoman governor wanted to abolish prostitution, which was plaguing the conservative city in the view of a barber, Ahmad al-Budayri, whose diary Rogan reads as an excellent source of social history. Problem was, many Damascenes admired these ladies, who eschewed veils and let their hair down, got drunk, and (one of them) even stabbed a leading judge in downtown Damascus. Various crackdowns and legal bans on prostitution failed. As the barber Budayri lamented corruption and the “prostitutes [who] proliferated in the markets, day and night,” the Ottoman governor, As’ad Pasha al-Azm gave up his anti-prostitution campaign. He “abandoned all efforts to expel the bold prostitutes,” Rogan writes “and chose to tax them instead.”

So, Cairo and your aged President. Why not tax the smokes?