[Photos by David Degner]
On a dark road in Cairo’s working class Shubra district, horse-drawn wagons crash down the avenue, narrowly missing cars, motorcycles, microbuses, and spectators. Young men sit on the sidelines on wooden carts and plastic chairs, passing small wagers back and forth as the riders pass. Relentless Mahraganat electronica music belts out of speakers, as foul language flies and the jockeys beat their horses to push them forward. A three-wheeled motorcycle taxi drives through the raucous scene, and seems swept up by the surrounding energy, swerving back and forth, narrowly missing the crowd and several of the carts multiple times. A car tries to overtake a horse cart, coming dangerously close to a wagon before the riders start beating the car itself with their riding whips. This is Cairo’s race of the Arbageh.
Around fifty years ago, a group of Arbageh, which roughly translates to “horse riding salesmen”, began meeting on a street in Shubra to run their animals on a kilometer-long track of road. Since then, Cairo’s Arbageh race has grown to a circuit event held four days a week, spanning three different sections of the city: Shubra, Abbasiya, and Giza. “There are never fights, but people get heated” said Mina, a street vendor who sells tea and coffee at the races. The riders have “nothing to win or lose but pride.” Like most public gatherings in Egypt, the street races are themselves host to vendors selling everything from pudding to expertly hand-tooled horse bridles.