CAIRO — Egypt’s young people have once again taken to the streets. This time, though, they are in spandex and on bicycles, in kayaks and sculls on the Nile, doing street workouts in the slums of Giza or CrossFit exercises in makeshift rooftop gyms.
More than five years after overwhelming numbers filled Tahrir Square in Cairo, deposing President Hosni Mubarak, and three years since the military crackdown that ousted the elected Muslim Brotherhood president and jailed protesters by the thousands, a fitness craze has taken hold. It is a stark departure for a nation that is the 17th most obese in the world, where fast-food joints proliferate and smoking is still the norm in restaurants — and everywhere else.
Egyptian squash players are among the best in the world, and privileged families have long pushed their children to take up sports, but the new focus on fitness is drawing in people from all classes, with substantial numbers of women, too, and is more about exercise for exercise than about games or competition. Many Egyptians see it as a direct outgrowth of the withering of the political revolution under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“Why now, and where does this come from? Clearly, it’s connected with the withdrawal from public life by young people,” said Ezzedine C. Fishere, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo who has seen the trend take hold in his family. Mr. Fishere said he goes to the gym regularly, his daughter wears a Fitbit and his ex-wife works out, too.
Ramy A. Saleh, who pioneered CrossFit in Egypt, opening the first franchise right after the revolution, said simply, “The young people can’t go out demonstrating, but they can go out to run.”
It did not take the military-dominated government long to take notice — approvingly. Soon after assuming office in 2014, Mr. Sisi, the former commanding general of Egypt’s military, led cadets from the military academy on a well-publicized bicycle ride around Cairo.
“President Sisi wanted to give a couple messages to the youth, that he’s supporting them,” said Ibrahim Nofal, a co-founder of the Egypt Sports Network, which promotes sports development. “He was telling them, ‘We are aware, we’re trying to take care of this.’ It was a smart move.”
Young men exercising at a community fitness space south of Cairo that specializes in street workouts and calisthenics. Credit Sima Diab for The New York Times
Read on here.