Cairo is abuzz with what people are calling, "the Great Hash Drought of 2010," a sudden and inexplicable scarcity of the chunky brown smokable that takes the edge off this crazy place for an estimated 7 million regular users.
The drug in question: hashish, a potent cannabis derivative that's typically sold in a hard block form and is softened under heat.
Yes, it's illegal here, along with all the other usual narcotics. But hash is also ubiquitous, smoked by poor taxi drivers and rich American University kids alike. Or at least it was ubiquitous. Local and regional newspapers and TV shows are crammed with coverage of the "crisis."
"This is not the dawning of some renewed collective work ethic. What you're witnessing is withdrawal," wrote Waleed Marzouk in al Masry al Youm's English edition. The headline: "Dry Spell."
Matt Bradley, a Cairo-based reporter for the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National also clearly had a good time with the story:
"Thanks to a renewed law enforcement effort, hashish smokers - nearly 10 percent of the population, according to official statistics - must now face their worst bout of cognitive clarity and short-term memory gain in more than a decade," Bradley wrote.
Rumors abound about why Egypt's No. 1 drug has vanished from the market. The AFP news service listed some of them:
"The scarcity has stoked alternative theories to the government's matter-of-fact explanation for the hashish trade's apparent decline. Some people believe a consortium of dealers is stockpiling the drug to raise prices...Others blame corrupt officials who they insist also have a hand in the trade, a reflection of the general distrust many Egyptians feel towards the government," the AFP's Samer al Atrush wrote.
As all the stories on the topic point out, the scarcity of hash has led to skyrocketing prices for the small amount still for sale, the hoarding of hashish by users terrified of running out, and a turning to opiates and other harder drugs by hash smokers who've already gone dry.
Egyptian authorities, meanwhile, are crowing about their record hashish seizures; officials have announced nearly 8 tons of hash seized in the past three months alone. Most hashish is smuggled into Egypt from Morocco. The state-run newspaper al Ahram quoted officials bragging about "the complete destruction of the hash trade in Egypt," though AFP interviewed other anti-narcotics agents who said it would be impossible to wipe out the whole, longstanding industry.
The opposition newspaper al Dustour, which has covered the hash drought closely, ran a story last week that described how potheads are coping. "Many bemoaned resorting to booze and pills to address their mood swings, and spoke of the unsavory characters they had to encounter, as well as expeditions they undertook to governorates they hoped they'd never see, to find affordable supplies," Marzouk wrote, summarizing the Dustour reporting.
From all the local interviews with dealers and users, one point was clear. Egyptian hashish devotees are decidedly of the "rehab is for quitters" mindset.
"Nobody wants to believe that we'll have to lead a completely drug-free life in Egypt. We're sure that we're going to find a way around it, even if the price goes up a little bit," a 25-year-old hashish smoker told The National.