As the Egyptian government considers how to revive the country’s booming hookah business, a new industry in the country is being touted as the future of the industry.
Aspiring hookah bar manager Assef Bhatti says his dream is to make it the go-to hookah shop in the Middle East and Africa.
“I want to be the first one to open it, and I want to help hookah culture thrive here,” said Assefa, who started hookah bars at his home in Dubai, and opened his first bar in Tunisia, as well as at home in Cairo.
“There are lots of hookah shops in Egypt, but I wanted to open a bar here that has the right quality and quality of service.”
With the popularity of hookahs in Egypt rising, more and more bars are popping up in Egypt and the Gulf region, as people continue to use the smoke to relax, socialize and socialize with family and friends.
But while the market is booming, there is still a big question mark over whether hookah is actually a viable alternative to smoking.
While the Egyptian police has banned hookah smoking, most of the country still allows it.
The Egyptian government, which banned hookahs from its beaches in 2016, has not said if it will follow suit in the future.
While some say the ban is a good step forward, many say the government should also consider introducing the same ban on hookah clubs.
“If you are banning smoking, you should consider banning hookahs, too,” said Ibrahim Al-Khawaja, a consultant with the Egyptian tobacco industry and the director of the Luxury Tobacco Research Institute.
“Otherwise, it will be the same old situation.”
But there are still some who see a different scenario for hookah.
“It is important to create a new market,” said Nour al-Rifai, a hookah addict from Cairo.
“The hookah has been a part of our culture for thousands of years.
If you ban it, you will just destroy this culture,” she added.
Some argue that the ban will just make the industry even more expensive and that hookah cafes will still open.
But even if the ban doesn’t help, Al-Rimai said he would still want to open hookah lounges in Egypt.
“Hookah is not a taboo anymore, and the government can only make this change if they give it more time,” he said.
But with the government still considering the ban, and many still opposed to the ban even as a rule, Al Jazeera asked Assefi to share his thoughts on the ban.
“You can have a hookahs at home and in the street.
You can go to a hooka bar in the middle of the night.
But if you do it in front of a big crowd, the people will be angry and you will have a problem,” he told Al Jazeera.
Al-Khawiaja agrees that the government has the power to change the industry, but he doubts the change will happen.
“What I see is that the new administration is trying to do something.
They want to put pressure on the hookah owners, but if you have a small number of people, it is not enough,” he added.
Al Jazeera’s Nasser Abu Zaidi contributed to this report.