January 16, 2004


I found this photo fairly appealing -- I think it's the obvious joy in the woman's expression; the wreaths of smoke lend her a certain aura of mystery as well. It would be difficult not to respond to her obvious pleasure -- pleasure is pleasing, even if enjoyed vicariously.

But, as the article accompanying the photo in Al Ahram informs us, smoking is bad. It is bad for both sexes, but Egypt has embarked on a campaign to persuade women to drop the habit of smoking the shisha, those ornate pipes with hoses that filter tobacco smoke through a mix of molasses and other flavors:

"Women who smoke shisha [water pipe] don't realise how bad it looks." Thus Gamal Shanan, the artistic production studio director at the Ministry of Health, displaying the image of a "fallen" young woman wearing tight pink jumpsuit and racy makeup as she straddles a chair next to a large shisha -- the work of Al-Akhbar cartoonist Mustafa Hussein. "That's why we created this poster -- to help show them how terrible they look, or rather how men see them, when they're holding a shisha to their mouths."


Rather than reflecting disinterested health concerns, however, negative reactions to the spread of shisha smoking seem to be more about class- and gender than health. More than anything else, it is the rise of shisha smoking among young women that Shanan finds particularly disturbing.

"All of a sudden this seriously perilous business is everywhere," he says. "All those pretty girls spending hours at [traditionally exclusively male] cafés. To men they are no longer feminine, let alone respectable. How on earth will they find a husband?"


Despite objections to the advertisement, Shanan told the Weekly that even more aggressive campaigns against women smoking are planned. "We are declaring war on women who smoke shisha and in so doing we intend to hit where it hurts," he says. "Our intention is to protect the image of women. And what on earth should any decent women care about if not, before all else, her image?"

I wonder if there's an Arabic translation for "You've come a long way, baby" ...

Posted by Ideofact at January 16, 2004 11:05 PM

It is easy for us to make jokes but, as one who smoked shisha with the men over thirty years ago, the mere idea of a woman in a shisha joint is impossible. That women have gone to smoking, to now being criticized for smoking too much, and in a pink jump suit, no less, man, she sure has come a long way. Baby.

Posted by: Michael Gersh at January 20, 2004 10:48 AM

Why is it so unclean for women to smoke shisha? Are women made of porcelain? Haven't we the right to pleasure as well as long as it doesn't involve haram? I mean, I wouldn't advise a women or even a man having a child watch them smoke shisha, to begin with it is for adults. But for centuries this has been a male dominated smoke a thon. And many times it was the women who made ready the shisha for their husbands. Take me for example I am a young women. I work, I go to college. I come from a good family. I don't smoke stick tabacco. I keep my lungs clean, but yes I do enjoy sometimes having a hot cup of joe or tea, and inhaling on some fruity flavored smoke. Is this haram? Does this make me not suitable for marriage? Is this an outrage? By no means. I have my whole life in front of me. I have always been taught not to limit my potential. Will me late night shisha inhale exhale prevent me. Never. If one opens their eyes, even have a conversation with a young lady you would understand. It all stems from fear. Fear is what causes your disaprovals. Restriction breads more desire, increased smokers. You will see.


Posted by: Nawal at February 10, 2004 07:34 PM