CAIRO — Sunset is when the Nile blinks to life in Cairo, the party boats twinkling like Vegas, the couples on the Qasr el-Nil bridge lingering in the breeze, the riverside cafes clinking with commerce long past most cities’ bedtimes.

By 6 a.m., when the rest have gone home, the rowers come out to a Cairo few others know: no traffic, no crowds, little chaos. Even the birds are audible this time of morning, when the city’s battalions of car horns offer only groggy competition and winter fog pales the five-star hotels along the shore. In the boat, the oar blades smear and scrape the river like knives over cream cheese. Rhythm replaces thought: Dip the oars. Push with the legs. Pull back. Repeat.

“Being on the water in the early morning, where you don’t think of anything but following the person in front of you — it takes you out of the city,” said Abeer Aly, 34, who founded the Nile Dragons Academy, a rowing school in central Cairo. “A lot of people think about their problems in the shower. I think about mine during rowing.”

still sustains it. Cairo residents might have

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