Battle of the Wazzir: The Day Sex Workers Resisted
The Wazzir alley was one of the many alleys of the infamous Wagah El-Barakh region, where legalized sex working was common and where the pubs were as far as the eye can see in the early 19th century. The battle of Wazzir is a battle the Egyptian forgot, and the Australian and New Zealander won’t, a battle that is shredded with mystery and folk tale, so what exactly happened in the battle of the Wazzir?
Egypt was officially put under the “British Mandate” in the beginnings of World War I, after years of de facto ruling the country, the British finally removed the Ottomans as the official rulers of the country. During World War I, the British used the strategic location of Egypt, to use it as the starting point for the many military campaigns it was lunching during World War I against the ottomans. In 1915 the ANZAC arrived in Egypt, where they would be stationed near the pyramids temporarily until they are sent on their way to a new military campaign against the Ottomans. Being stationed near the Pyramids meant it was relatively easy for the troops to spend their free times and vacations in Cairo, one spot was especially famous among the troops which is Wagah El-Barkah, where they could receive pleasure from the sex workers, drinks from the pubs and entertainment from the many shows around. All was going smooth until the 2nd of April 1915, when the Battle of Wazir erupted between the locals, sex workers on one side and the ANZAC troops on the other.
ANZAC Troops in Front of the Pyramids. Year 1915
Many reasons and the end are the same:
Many stories fed into the myth of how all of this started; some blame the existing of the British and their troops in general, and the way they disrespected the locals and the customs. Which in returned increased the tension between the British and Egyptian intellectuals who started the call for national resistance against the British, a call that will spread among all classes of the Egyptian society, including Sex workers. It was told that Egyptian Sex Workers would refuse to provide services to the British forces, which led the British authorities to allow foreign Sex workers to come to Egypt. Another story puts the spreading of STDs among British soldiers, the huge increase in the prices and the very low quality of beer to the blame. Other stories states that one of the Australian soldiers, was shocked to find his siter working in one in the brothels and when he tried to kidnap her from the brothel, a huge fight erupted between him and the workers in the Brothel. A final story says that the reason behind the battle is the refusal of service by a sex worker for a “Mauri” solider because his skin color is too dark. All those stories are fun to listen to, but it is more probable that the battle started out of the pre-existing tension between the soldiers and the Sex workers in the region, and a minor incident ignited the fire.
Passer by viewing the aftermath. Year 1915
The Start of the battle:
The Great Friday, a holy day for the Christen soldiers, on the 2nd of April 1915. The streets and alleys of Wagab El-Barkah are full of soldiers looking to have fun and for pleasure. The house number 8 at “Derb El-Mabaltyen” is waiting for the customers, the workers there do not know yet that this house is where the battle will start. Later, people were surprised and shocked with the scene, soldiers throwing furniture out of the house before sitting the entire on fire, before gathering in the center of the area and starting to randomly to sabotage and sit more brothels on fire. The locals with the Sex Workers started to fight back making makeshift barricades, using sticks and rocks to fight with the soldiers who were on a mission to destroy.
Egyptian police were summoned to the area, trying to put things down and to create a barrier between the troops and the Sex Workers, something that they failed at because the troops thought that the Egyptian police was here to help the locals. The British Military Police came to the place later to assist and used life ammo to make the crowds disperse, turning the entire thing to a fight between troops from the same army, ending the battle with four soldiers being wounded by the British Military Police.
The British troops trying to demonstrate how civilized it is decided to conduct an investigation, that was anything but legitimate. The investigation was led by Colonial Friedrich Higgins, in the investigators the ANZAC officers fought tooth and nail on behalf of their soldiers, stating that an ANZAC solider would never be able to incite such riot. There were some shy attempts to summon witness, all failed for one reason or another and in the end due to the need of troops on the frontline in Gallipoli, Turkey the investigation was ended. The results of the investigation were unjust, no soldier was to be punished and a compensation of 1700 British Pounds was to be paid, even though the damages were estimated at 100000 British Pounds. The British authorities in the aftermath of this battle ordered the closure of all brothels and pubs in major cities in Egypt.
This battle was left forgotten in the Egyptian memory, while in Australia and New Zealand you can find letters and full archives documenting this battle. perhaps Egyptian authorities and intellectuals of the time choose to forget this battle because it is a reminder of how weak the Egyptian government was at the time and how it was characterized by being a subject to the British, not being able to keep order in its own capital. Perhaps because in this period of weakness for the Egyptian authority in the country, the only battle that happened between the British and the Egyptian at the time, Egypt was defended by a group that often looked down upon in the Egyptian society (The sex workers). All in all in the end the Sex Workers did fight bravely and in the end of the day this battle with all of its incidents must survive more in the memory of Egyptians.
A Sex worker standing behind a makeshift barricade for protection
Childeren and Soilder standing in front of a burned building in the aftermath of the battle
Aftermath of the battle