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How The Media Gets It All Wrong.
Cairo, The 1960s: The Shereen Tate Affair

by Samir Raafat
Middle East Times, February 2, 1997

devilAll this talk of about a bunch of kids in Egypt who are into Satanic worship and which somehow worked its way onto the front pages of almost all our dailies and weeklies, brings back memories of the Shereen Tate Affair. This is about a murder which took place in Cairo in the very late 1960s when several of the few hundred hippies who hung around the Maadi, Heliopolis and Gezira Sporting Clubs, were accused of savage complicity. It was one of those chronic instances in which society's "deviants" were automatically condemned by mainstream society. The lethal combination of ignorance, outright discrimination and a press fascinated with anything novel, had made it possible for a judgment to be handed down by out-of-touch social pundits and an uninformed public at large, even before a proper homicidal investigation had begun.

This Cairo murder was nicknamed the 'Shereen Tate Affair'. This appellate was chosen because the scene of the crime was the penthouse of a youngster called Shereen Reda and because it took place so soon after the 1969 Charles Manson cult murders in Los Angeles of actress Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski, and four others.

These were the hippie days of Carnaby Streets, Biba chairs, the movie Emanuel, the rock groups Blood Sweat and Tears and Grateful Dead. All over Europe the pop scene was the same. There were the groupies, the roadies, the long hair, the beads, the mini-skirts, flower power etc. Campuses were in turmoil over Vietnam and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were spewing out their long repertoire of anti-establishment songs.

In Cairo, this was the era of the flap. By flap I mean neither war nor peace with Israel. It was a time when youngsters were lost between generations, between the wars of 1967 and 1973. While we had no conscientious objectors, at least we had a few hippies. These were also the pre-video days when satellite television was discussed only in sci-fi terms by the very imaginative or the high on canabis. And since there were no computers, then it's pointless to bring up the much maligned internet at this point. But for the few Egyptians I knew who managed to travel abroad despite all the obstacles and currency regulations, they came back full of awesome stories, kinky threads and new fads.

It was in between the hit musicals Oh Calcutta and Jesus Christ Superstar that the murder of Shereen Reda's maid took place in his family's fashionable penthouse on Kasr al-Nil Street. The unfortunate maid had been discovered cold dead and rolled up in a carpet with the words "we are so sorry " written on the wall above the advanced rigor mortis. Here was the clincher for the unresolved murder case, or so the investigators thought. Four words written in English plus the maid rolled up Cleopatra-style. That's all they needed to rest this seemingly open and shut case.

For the know-it-all, but in reality, out-of-touch, investigators, everything pointed towards Shereen and his teenage hippie friends. Was Shereen not half-American and trendy? Did he not have long blonde hair? Didn't the neighbors give detailed depositions describing all night parties... nay, orgies. Didn't some of the more well informed recount that they could hear loud music and chants. Giggling girls wearing skimpy clothes and covered with beads. Didn't the bowab and his callers say they could see right up the knees and thighs of these kafara (unbelievers) as they waited for the elevator to go up to the 14th floor Reda penthouse? Yes, and the men (ha-ha) wore tight bell-bottom trousers and sported golden chains around their necks. Of-course it was the khanafess (Arabic word for Beatles), who killed the maid. Only them Hibbies (Hippie) could have written these parting revealing words in English!!

Unfortunately for the state security, the investigation wasn't going to be that open and shut. Firstly, Shereen and family had gone abroad for vacation during the time of the crime and had not yet returned. Secondly, unaware that a crime would occur in his family's penthouse, Shereen forgot to leave behind a list of his friends for the perusal of the police.

Nevertheless, after their 'thorough' investigation, the detective force had a fair description of the type of friends Shereen had. These were corroborated by Shereen's observant neighbors and bowab. Habbies and khanafess, that's who did the old maid in. One by one, they pieced a list together and started to call Shereen's friends in.

I was neither a Hippie nor a groupie. I was me. But teenage me happened to be a friend of Shereen Reda. One illegible summon from the police and there I was in the Abdeen police station together with a whole bunch of Egypt's so-called hippies and khanafess. Our fingerprints were taken. We were questioned again and again. We were made to write endlessly on the wall "we are so sorry" until we could hardly lift our arms and the writing became one shaky line.

To break the otherwise awful monotony of the station where everyone was gawking at us, there were the occasional visits of the short skirts and bleach blonde hair who were ushered in and out by their anxious fathers and lawyers. There were the cool young dudes dragged in their tight bell bottoms. The still fascinated press kept probing and we all made into the local dailies. Each day there was a cap and recap of the entire story. "HIPPIES ACCUSED OF MURDER" and "KHANAFESS KILL MAID"

Panic within Cairo's habbies and khanafess circles started to sink in as all kinds of speculative stories floated around. Meanwhile, long shaggy hair turned into crew cuts. Beads were replaced with polo necks. Mini-skirts were lengthened. Pink shirts disappeared. While most of us were released on bail or on our own cognizance with instructions not to leave town and to report on a daily basis, some of Shereen's hippie friends, whom I did not know, remained in captivity.

As the investigation progressed and we made our routine calls at the Abdeen Police Station we could occasionally overhear locker room banter among the officers. They were greatly intrigued by the khanafess captives' who wore colored slips and jock shorts, something unheard of in those days where imports of pupu-undies and all other garments were prohibited. These were the days of Egypt's closed economy. No imports. Infitah was still in the never never.

After several weeks of investigations and media hippie-bashing, not unlike what we read today, the real murderers were found. And they had nothing to do with hippies, Grateful Dead, flower-power, or long hair. They had never heard of Teddy boys or Elvis Presley. They were the plain Mohammed and Ahmed John Doe types; dropout students in cahoots with the parking attendant of Shereen's building..

Assuming the flat was abandoned, they had broken into it only to find themselves face to face with the maid. When she started to scream they panicked and choked her. More panic, so they rolled her up in a carpet and to detract the inevitable investigation that would ensue, they had the original idea of writing on the nearby wall "we are so sorry." Four words that made it open season for indiscriminate Hippie-bating and khanafess-bashing.

articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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