Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt - a land ruled by meglomaniacs


It feels a long time ago since I was last in Egypt and I haven’t thought about the place a lot since; not until today when the news bulletins were filled with news from Cairo.

It’s hard to capture Egypt in one blog entry because it’s so expansive. Egypt a great empire thousands of years ago when people in Britain were still living in huts made of cow manure and trying to figure out how a wheel worked.

The pharaohs were the world’s first megalomaniacs. Consider the amount of power Khufu must have wielded 2,580 years before the birth of Christ when he was able to get his devoted subjects to spend 23 years toiling in the heat of the desert moving 2,300,000 building blocks that weighted 2.5 tons each, just to build their ruler a giant headstone, in the form of the Great Pyramid. By all accounts Khufu was a tyrant who spurned a funerary cult.



Today the leader cult is apparent in the middle class Cairo suburb of Heliopolis where a giant statute of Ramses the Great watches over the highway.

Egypt isn’t short of monuments honouring its leaders and according them God like status. Indeed the texts known as the Memphite Theology helped fused Egypt's kings with its gods. In the inhospitable western desert across the Nile from Luxor, two massive and brooding figures sit in crumbling splendour. These are the Colossi of Memnon, statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, which were the inspiration for Shelley’s poem Ozymandias.

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Egypt is full of tales of despots who saw their legacies crumble away. The pharaoh Akhenaten forced his people to abandon the old gods and to worship the disc of the sun, the Aten. He built a startling new city from the lone and level sands that fell into decay just years after his death.


And what of Hosni Mubarak, the present president whose 30 year reign is in jeopardy? While the US harped on about regime change and bringing democracy to Iraq, it said little about the crushing of human rights in countries that were its allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya.

Mubarak may not be as bad as Saddam Hussein but the Iraqi tyrant's personality cult is also in evidence in Egypt where Mubrak's face stares down on the traffic from numerous posters like a modern day Ramses.

It would be ironic indeed if the US mission to bring democracy to the Middle East toppled the regimes of its allies rather than the likes of Iran and Syria.

For me Egypt remains a country that is as fascinating as it is beautiful and at times sinister. The first time I arrived in Luxor, I felt almost suffocated by the dry heat and the exotic nature of my surroundings. We drove past homes without roofs and strange smokey dives where men gathered into the night by the Nile to smoke hookah pipes.

Waking up on the first morning on a Nile cruise ship, the sparking aqua green beauty of the Nile and the lushness of the palms that caressed the river against the harsh desert walls beyond it, were too breathtaking for description. This was the cradle of civilzation in all its savage beauty.

And as we drove through fields of swaying grasses and donkey carts to a distant funerary temple it became clear the way of life here hadn't changed much since the days of the Bible.



And on the dusty road into Cairo a sense of disbelief comes over you that such a huge city can grow and thrive out of such a barren brown wilderness. Slums are piled on top of ironstone cliffs with not a tree to break the bleakness and families live in open tombs in the Cities of the Dead. In the vast Khan El Khalil bazaar, where half blind men push around carts with sheeps heads and the hawkers follow you through the labyrinth it's easy to lose hope.

But in Egypt there are friendly people everywhere. There are people who will escort you across the road, talking about their Oxford education. Before you know it you'll be in their perfume shop, a hopeless victim to the hard sell. Or the other way to escape will be via his cousin's carpet shop or his brother's papyrus shop.

Then at the most blatant tourist spots the sellers will mentally check you out to gauge your nationality before becoming a satire of your nation. "Luvvly jubberly, tally ho and Marks and Spencer," they will cry, as you try in vain to pass yourself off as a Canadian.



The troubles in Egypt make me wonder if the nation will finally shake itself free of the yoke of the tyrants and I'm skeptical about revolution for revolution's sake. For every Czeck-style velvet revolution, there's a revolution like 1879 in France that spawned the terror, the Guillotine and Robspierre, or 1917 in Russia that spawned Bolshevism and the biggest tyrant of them all Joseph Stalin.

And let's not forget the regime in Iran that has been the symbol of protests over the last few years, was the creation of the 1979 revolution that replaced an autocratic king with an autocratic holy man.

Nevertheless what's going on in Egypt is pivotal. In terms of history and significance Egypt is a far more influential country than Tunisia. If a despot is overthrown here, the dictator-ridden Middle East will be asking where next?

18 comments:

  1. I agree with you.

    It is on my list of places to visit.

    I was supposed to go in 2001 for work, but they sent me to Brazil instead.

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  2. This was very interesting to read, David, and I enjoyed the pictures and learning more about this amazing part of the world, but I have to tell you, I have no desire to ever visit there. I'm not much of an adventurer. I'm just not that brave. I did enjoy your virtual tour, so to speak, though. :-)

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  3. Fascinating and informative post! Thanks for the history lesson. ...I'm still laughing about ancient Brits trying to figure out how to work a wheel. ...Oh, and by the way, everyone knows that aliens built those pyramids ; )

    http://rantersbox.blogspot.com.

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  4. Am very pleased to have come across your blog.

    I am both equally shocked and thrilled by recent events in Egypt. I'm hoping for the best...but since they've been cut off from the internet and instant communication, it has also left me with a sense of anxiety that this will happen elsewhere...the kill switch.

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  5. true, Egypt is or was ruled by Megalomaniacs! i enjoyed this trip back in time. well i've always loved history, and when we touched Egypt, I've dreamt of the Pyramids and the treasures of the Pharaohs since then. I was hoping you'd give some info about Tut, who was my favorite but as i read your post I am informed of the current events in Cairo. this really informative and helpful especially for a girl like me who has become allergic to newspapers as of late.

    p.s. thanks for replying my email. i figured that comment was spam.lol

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  6. What an interesting post! I've always wanted to go there but I have a feeling it might be quite a while until it's safe to do so. I'm just wondering if Mubarak has been like this for 30 years, what is it about now that is setting off the protests?

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  7. Loved this. Egypt is a fascinating place; and while I have always wanted to see it, I have never been good at the hard-sell and shy away from marketplaces...

    Pearl

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  8. As always, your post is informative, interesting and slightly disturbing...poverty & ignorance facilitates tyrants who use the 2 coupled with brutality and bribery to retain their powers...Indian dynastic rule in politics has succeeded on the strength of altleat 3 of these factors...the worst part is even those reformists who occupy positions get corrupted...If these protests find a political ally, change may come but what kind still remains a catch 22... sorry, got long-winded...

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  9. this is a very interesting post. makes me want to go visit egypt. thanks for the info.

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  10. It's well worth visiting Oilfield - how was Brazil? You should Daisy, it's strange but places like Cairo are a lot safer than say Detroit or many other US cities. Thanks Empress, they kind of look like aliens may have. For sure Mollie, the kill swich sounds ominous; thanx for the follo. Thanks Maria, Tut was fascinating too but it would have been too long, there was some speculation he was a wimp. Yep Lifebegins, now's probably not the time, even when I went there was a terrorism threat. lol Pearl, that's worth a post in itself. You are not supposed to look at goods first because that means you want to buy. Good point Rek, could be a Catch 22. Thanks for the visit Arcita, do come back.

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  11. This is an incredibly important moment in history. I think what Egypt does will send shockwaves through that part of the world no matter how it turns out. We just have to hope that common sense and human rights prevail and hope that the people don't give up until that is achieved. Fingers crossed that common sense wins out instead of greed.

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  12. Amazing post, David. You are such a great writer that sometimes I'm simply mesmerized by your words. :)

    I have always wanted to visit Egypt. My ex-bf (now friend) is half-Egyptian and was actually living there with family for the past four years. He moved back home right before this all hit the news. It's kind of incredible to hear about what's happening from someone who was just there, witnessing it.

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  13. I'm with you Christopher - off to check out the latest. You are too kind Jennifer. It's certainly one of my favorite countries but too long since I was last there.

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  14. Wonderful history lesson and beautiful pictures. Visiting Egypt is on my bucklet list, I will get there one day! I am a Brit living in Western Canada, nice to meet you eh! :-)
    ~Michelle

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  15. You sure know how to write a fascinating post, I gather what is happening in Eygpt was kicked off by the unrest in Tunisia, I wonder where will be next in this domino effect. Who would have thought Delboy would have made it big in Cairo luvvy jubbly!!

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  16. Thanks Poetic Justice, always good to connect with a fellow displaced Brit. You are too kind Ryan, you too. They are big fans of Only Fools and Horses, it seems.

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  17. I hope to one day visit Egypt... currently would not be advised though.

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