At a Cairo café, a cross-section of Egyptian society, young and old, rich and poor, are drawn together by the quality of its coffee and the allure of its owner, legendary former dancer Qurunfula. When three of the young patrons disappear for prolonged periods, the older customers display varying reactions to the news. On their return, they recount horrific stories of arrest and torture at the hands of the secret police, and the habitus of the café begin to withdraw from each other in fear, suspecting that there is an informer among them. With the nighttime arrests and the devastation of the country's defeat in the 1967 War, the café is transformed from a haven of camaraderie and bright-eyed idealism to an atmosphere charged with mounting suspicion, betrayal, and crushing disillusionment.
Exposing the dark underbelly of ideology, and delving into the idea of the necessary evils of social upheaval, Karnak Café remains one of the Nobel laureates most pointedly critical works, as relevant and incisive today as it was when it was first published in 1974.