Three ladies in Cairo


“Three Ladies in Cairo” is the fictionalized true story of how three Swedish women – grandmother Hilda, mother Ingrid, and the author Anne Edelstam.


Three Ladies in Cairo is the fictionalized true story of how three Swedish women – grandmother Hilda, mother Ingrid, and Anne herself. Together they discover Egypt throughout the twentieth century’s social changes, up to the country’s first free elections in June 2012. All three learn to cope with the colossal social and cultural differences, born and bred in Sweden and residing in the Middle East … life-styles covering more than a century of these three women’s experiences.

anne 1EDELSENThe book offers deep and extended perspectives on Egypt’s politics, economical and traditional societies – the vantage points of both outsiders and insiders. As a social anthropologist, Islamic historian, and international journalist, Anne weaves ancient Egyptian history with modern day politics which many readers identify as living historical realities. She captures not just the broader pictures behind Egypt’s history and political upheavals, but identifies the realities through three Swedish women eye-witnesses living in Egypt during the dramatic historical changes …”

Table of Contents in English and in Arabic (translated by Marwa Adam:

Chapter 1: The Swedish goldrush 1

Chapter 2: Love and loss 25

Chapter 3: From northern slopes to oriental deserts 52

Chapter 4: New family member 78

Chapter 5: Garden City 102

Chapter 6: From Pharaohs to chic down-town 129

Chapter 7: To the streets 150

Chapter 8: Chameleons and tortoises 173

Chapter 9: Ditches in the garden 192

Chapter 10: Dancing in Alexandria 219

Chapter 11: Death of a President 242

Chapter 12: Readings in a coffee cup 268

Chapter 13: The high life 289

Chapter 14: Talking to a sycamore tree 323

Chapter 15: Hashish for dinner 351

Chapter 16: Living with a clan 376

Chapter 17: Back to square one 394

Chapter 18: Dark ages 416

Chapter 19: Post 9/11 436

Chapter 20: Cataclysm or a new era? 461

three ladies in cairo - hyrogliphics
الفصل الأول : أسيل الذهب السويدي
الفصل الثانى: الحب و الفقد
الفصل الثالث: من المنحدرات الشمالية إلى صحراء الشرق
الفصل الرابع: عضو جديد فى العائلة
الفصل الخامس : حديقة المدينة
الفصل السادس: من الفراعنة إلى أناقة وسط المدينة
الفصل السابع: إلى الشوارع
الفصل الثامن: الحرباء و سلحفاة البر
الفصل التاسع: خنادق فى الحديقة
الفصل العاشر: الرقص فى الإسكندرية
الفصل الحادى عشر: مصرع رئيس
الفصل الثانى عشر: قراءة الفنجان
الفصل الثالث عشر: حياة مترفة
الفصل الرابع عشر: الحديث إلى شجرة الجميز
الفصل الخامس عشر: حشيش على العشاء
الفصل السادس عشر: الحياة مع العشيرة
القصل السابع عشر: العودة إلى مربع واحد
الفصل الثامن عشر: العصور المظلمة
الفصل التاسع عشر : ما بعد الحادى عشر من سبتمبر
الفصل العشرين: اجتياح أم عهد جديد؟!

ثـــلاثــــة سيـــدات فـــى الــقــاهـــــرة
آن إيــديـــلســتــــام

anne edelson grandfatherEvery summer my grandfather, Torsten Salén, had 4 (!) months holidays from the Mixed Courts and the family loaded their trucks on the boat taking them from Alex to Europe – here my mother with her Norwegian nanny, Nan.

My grandfather the Judge, Torsten Salen, in Cairo’s Mixed Courts in the -30s.

Upon their return Hilda, my grandmother, met Hoda Sharawi:

An extract from the book …

Hilda meets Hoda

anne edelson grandmother

Hilda Salén and her husband Torsten (judge at the Mixed Courts in Mansourah, then Cairo and eventually Alexandria) and little Ingrid just came back to Mansourah from the summer holidays in Sweden in the beginning of the 1930s.

The rest of the summer passed all too quickly, Hilda thought. Soon it was time to head back to Egypt again where fresh challenges awaited them, this time in the capital.
“Cairo is even more modern than the towns in the Delta. It will be nearly like living in Europe!” she exclaimed.

“It’ll be much better, because we won’t have to suffer the recession that our poor countrymen are having. And there’s terrible anti-Semitism spreading in Europe. The Jews are being blamed for all the financial troubles,” Torsten said.

“It seems that people have quite lost their senses.”
“It’s the opposite in Egypt, most of the king’s advisers are Jews.”
“Thank God we’re living in Egypt now.”

Not everything was rosy in Egypt, though. One of the problems was the situation of the Egyptian women. Not all of Hilda’s friends were from well-off families. Many Egyptian women, she realized, had to cope with what seemed to her insurmountable problems. Some of those women were quite involved in politics, such as Hoda Shaarawi, who fought for the development of her illiterate sisters. She became known as one of the most famous feminists of the early twentieth century. Hilda came to admire her greatly for the courage and integrity behind her charming smile and elegant manners.

They first met at a dinner party with some of Torsten’s colleagues, where they immediately took a liking to each other, and they came to spend many interesting hours in each other’s company after that initial meeting. Both were freedom lovers and independent women in their own right. Hilda was impressed by her new friend’s deep knowledge of her country, imposing manners, and the precious insights into Egypt that Hoda gave her. But she was also an example to Hilda.

A few years before, Hoda – an elegant woman from the Egyptian aristocracy, herself part of a harem – arrived at Cairo’s railway station and was greeted by her fellow Egyptians. She was already known as a feminist then and was returning from an international woman’s conference in Rome. It’s now or never. I have to do it! Hoda, you can do it, just do it now! She convinced herself to do the unthinkable.

Standing in full view of everyone, she slowly removed the veil covering her face, feeling the onlookers catching their breath. Now it’s too late, it’s finally done, she thought. Some followed her example then and there.

“Kefayya, kefayya!” – enough, enough! – women were shouting. That was the beginning of the end for the harem system in Egypt.

The Daily Life of The Dinka People Of Southern Sudan

dinka-tribe-sudan-africa-carol-beckwith-angela-fisher-1This is an amazing tribe – I saw them dancing (women picking out the men with a kind of broom) when visiting with my father Juba in the 80-s – Juba the capital of Southern Sudan had only a few round huts more or less back then.

After having visited the Swedish missionaries in the back bushes there was no incoming flights to take us back to Cairo.

Everyday we looked out for an airplane…

I’ve written about it in my book.

This is a MUST read book, for anyone who wants to understand what was and is happening in Egypt today !

What people are saying:

” vINANTIThree Ladies in Cairo” is the fictionalized true story of how three Swedish women – grandmother Hilda, mother Ingrid, and the author Anne Edelstam, herself, residing in Egypt for three generations … discover the land of the Nile throughout the twentieth century’s social changes, up to the Egypt’s first free elections in June 2012. Born and bred in Sweden, all three women share their first-hand experiences in coping with the colossal social and cultural differences during their timely stages of residence in this Middle Eastern country. The author reveals firsthand the ancient traditional lifestyles, covering more than a century.

This book offers deep insights and extended perceptions on Egypt’s politics, economics, social and religious traditions, from the vantage points of the outsiders – strangers living within as insiders, among friends and fellow Egyptians. As a thoroughly researched social anthropologist, Islamic historian, and international journalist working in three languages – Swedish, French and English, author Anne weaves Egyptian history from the beginning of the century through the eyes of her grandmother to her own personal thought on modern day politics … Worldwide readers will identify, understand and enjoy following and learning about those living historical realities, as she captures, not just the broader verbal accounts behind Egypt’s social and cultural history with its political upheavals, but identifies the realities seen and eye-witnessed by three Swedish women during the most dramatic political and historical changes …” ~ Vinanti Sarkar, Founder of VOICES OF WOMEN WORLDWIDE & VOWW-TV, spreading across 85 countries.

Blurb from the Swedish Ambassador in Cairo:

Charlotta Sparre, Ambassador of Sweden in Egypt“In a time when Egypt yet again is going through a transformative phase and history is being written, Anne Edelstam’s book is an important portrait that puts current events into a broader perspective. The book shares fascinating personal stories of three generation of ladies – Anne’s grandmother and mother, and Anne herself, from the 1920s and onwards. The stories of the three ladies are interwoven with the history of the country often referred to as ‘Umm Ad-Dunya’ (Mother of the World). Modern Egypt’s historical journey is a journey through good times and bad times, through war and peace and through periods of challenges and uncertainties that have a lot in common with the current phase of the country’s history.” ~ Charlotta Sparre, Ambassador of Sweden in Egypt


anne edelson 3 women in cairoAnne Edelstam is a journalist, writer, and photographer currently living in Paris and the third of three generations of women with close connections to Egypt.

Passionately committed to social affairs, Anne has worked at UNESCO, in Paris, and for over a decade has represented Sweden in FECRIS (Fédération Européenne des Centres de Recherche et d’Information sur le Sectarisme), a European organization.

Anne is a extensively published writer, social and cultural journalist, and photographer. She has released two non-fiction books: La Vierge de l’Apocalypse (Publibook 2006) in French, second book on cults; and Tre Damer I Kairo (Carlssons förlag 2005) in Swedish about Egyptian history. While writing for numerous newspapers and magazines: she is the Foreign News Editor for the notable Swedish magazine: “Tidningen Kulturen” (, writing several articles weekly from Paris, France. Then Frankofon, which was recently replaced by the monthly magazine Svenskfranska (, where she publishes around five articles monthly. For several years, she has been reporting extensively from Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, and Egypt.

three ladies in cairo cover backBUY HERE

A Celebration of Women





About Anne

Swedish journalist, photographer, editor and writer. Based in Paris, France.


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