Friday, January 05, 2007

Egypt - Day 15 - Esna and home

To Esna by taxi (EG 100), a price not altogether liked by the driver. Joined convoy at 7 am after seeing a stray 'Magicballoon' balloon career over the Nile in a strong west wind and into Luxor town, travelling very low.

We were the only people to peel off the Aswan convoy to Esna. Up through a souk-like alley to the temple that appears on your left as if placed in a huge pit. In fact the Nile had left two thousand years of silt buring the temple. It had to be excavated from beneath the village. We did a rough calculation based on the 40 foot pit – 0.24 inches per year – about right.

Why are colours so fresh?
The Ptolemaic temple (1st
century AD) is dedicated to Knum – the ram –headed creation god of the potter’s wheel. His corkscrew horns are horizontal. The temple is littered with the cartouches of Roman emperors, shown smiting their enemies, including; Domition, Trajan, Claudius, Commodus, Marcus Aurelius etc. The ceiling has a magnificent zodiac with vultures, scorpions, bulls, snakes etc. The colour is still evident, especially on roof, at the tops of many columns and on a few selected column shafts. The paint was of a limited palette, made from minerals and held together with egg white or gum-arabic, and therefore retains its colour. Organic plant and animal colours decay and degrade.

Art to order
After some time in
Egypt one becomes all to aware of the static, pattern approach to its art. Paintings and statues were copied from papyrus gridded drawings an scaled up by drawing a larger grid on the wall. This grid was produced by hanging a string coated in red ochre paint which is twanged against the wall. The outline was painted in rd, corrected and outlined in black, then coloured to a fixed palette.

Only the hypostyle hall has been excavated but it is in very good condition. We tried to walk off into the town but were stopped by the police. Only a stroll along the dirty cornice was allowed, where we came across a bakery with many poor people
begging for bread at the windows.

Rejoined a returning Aswan convoy and sped back to Luxor for our final lunch. This guy was one of the armed guards you see at crossroads when the convoy passes. Gil, Jackie, Sarah and Carl went into town to buy some Egyptian scarves at 30 EG and were treated to the usual flattering commen

ts by the shopkeepers. 30 EG with a kiss, 40 EG without – a new ploy that one.

Hotel had over charged us by £60 (honest error). The thought of returning to cold, wet England was depressing. We could all have staye d on for another week.

Flight home delayed by an hour as an exasperated pilot blamed security at Gatwick.

Egypt - Day 13 - Writing

A word about writing. The Nile provided the papyrus which was split, flattened and dried. It also provided the reed brushes for writing.

Hieroglyphics were written for 3,300 years with the last appearing on
Philae Temple in Hadrian’s reign. Read largely from right to left (into the faces of the animals) it was usually written in columns read from top to bottom.

It has logograms (pictures representing real things), phonograms (pictures representing sounds) and determinatives (qualifying the previous signs). It has no vowels and no one really knows how it was spoken, although Coptic contains some clues.

Hieratic is a cursive script that was easier to write as the brush remains on the papyrus for longer.

Demotic developed between 650 and 450 BC using Greek letters with some additions. and was overtaken by Greek during the Ptolmeic period.

Finally we have Coptic. All were eclipsed by Arabic in the 7th century.

Egypt - Day 14 - Corrupt kids

Balloon trip for Gil,, Ken, Jackie, Sarah and Danny. They took off and landed 30 minutes later on a road having travelled a short distance. Not enough wind, apparently.

I avoided lunch as three full meals a day were getting a bit much. The rest of us lazed around the pool, read, played table tennis, tennis then ate in La Fleur. Fixed menu at 135 was excellent.

Corruption and rich Egyptian kids
It was 2,500 years after the Pharaohs that
Egypt eventually got an Egyptian leader in Abdul Nasser (1952. He was a pan-Arab socialist and reformed the country after the lazy monarch King Farouk squandered his time on the French Riviera. He dies in 1971 when Sadat came to power. Assassinated in 1981 and succeeded by Mabourak who remains in power to this day. You don’t have to enquire much to see how hated Mabourak is among the ordinary people. They are certain that his son will be the next leader. Corruption is the main complaint. You can get anything for enough money and baksheesh is as common as ordinary fair payment.We had a taste of this corruption at the hotel when a bunch of teenagers turned up from the International School in Cairo. They were the sons and daughters of prominent Egyptians, and were not shy in telling people this. The staff were abused as were other tourists (rude calls made at random to rooms). Ignoring safety advice at the pool – generally causing mayhem. They were arrogant and aggressive, God help Egypt if this lot are its future. I caught them making the calls when they called my room then the kid’s room next door. They forgot that we had adjoining rooms, so we got reception to trace the call – J02. I went round to the teacher and told him to get them under control as well as reception. The guys on reception were at their wits end, dealing with this mob.The Muslim Brotherhood seem to be in the ascendant. They offer a corrupt-free countersociety based on Islamic law and one can see how they may well succeed on the back of a government that has hung around too long and let things rot. It’s all nepotism.

The mayor of Luxor, a Mabourak crony, repeatedly built expensive fountains in front of Luxor station, creaming off money on every build. The new mayor is better, apparently, and the town is getting a EG 700 million facelift. There’s building everywhere.

Egypt - Day 12 - Christmas in the sun

Christmas Day

Breakfast on Christmas Day. Ken a vision in pink. Breakfast al fresco on the bank of the Nile is jsut fine. No rain, no Queen, no turkey, no cheap chocolate, no crap TV, just sun.

Christmas Lunch terrace next to swimming pool and dinner .

Egypt - Day 10 - Edfu, Komombo, Philae, High Dam and Aswan

Up at 6, picked up at 6.
30 and on the road to Aswan at 7 am. First stop a coffee break then Edfu. Ptolemaic Edfu is as intact a temple as you’ll find in Egypt. Ptolemy VI’s cartouche is everywhere as are some empty cartouches, supposedly to show that the Ptolomies weren’t of real Egyptian stock – seems unlikely. Crossing the bridge over the Nile and through the town you pass the birth house and see the great pylon.

This temple is devoted to
Horus. Its hypostyle hall and temple sanctuary are remarkable. Even the granite block that contained the statue from the god is intact. Mohammed, the guide, was good for a story, although hyperbole would creep in if he was asked questions beyond his standard talks. He explained the Osiris/Seth myth with Isis and her son Horus, that the Royal lineage was down the female line (Isis), explaining why fathers would marry daughters.

His claim that there we
re maybe 30% Christians in Egypt was way off and his 3:1 ratio of girls to boys in the population was incredible. The Nilometer on the right and the Nut room are well worth visiting. All a bit of a rush as the convoy only gave us an hour or so at the site.

Kom Ombo

Stopped at Kom Ombo – dedicated to Sobek - a double temple with Nileometer, interesting reliefs of medical instruments and lots of scrape marks, where women have come to create powdered charms to get well or pregnant. This is still common as Shahhat's mother drank from the sacred pool of Medinet Habu to get pregnant.

High Dam
Off again at breakneck speed to Aswan where we travelled straight through to the British Dam, then High Dam, with its x17 pyramids of granite a mile wide holding back a 500 kilometre Lake Nasser. This was completed in 1971 and has saved
Egypt from flooding and drought, but at a price. They now need fertiliser to grow their crops (produced at the dam) and there is ecological damage. We could see Philae and Karach on the lake. Then we retraced our steps to the boat pier and on to Philae.

Philae myth, that a poor man fell in love with a rich woman, who was locked away on the island only t b followed their by him as he stepped across on the backs of crocodiles, was interesting, but the temple complex is stunning. Two colonnades, one unfinished act as a funnel towards the sacred granite rock and the pylon with Isis big and bold.

Inside are some fine reliefs and lots of graffiti. There’s Trajan’s kiosk, Diocletian’s gate with its steps down to the lake and Hadrian’s Gate. Quiet and idyllic setting.

Back to Aswan and a meal in a local restaurant,. The food was Ok but the interesting sight was a Nubian woman with hennaed hands and a beautiful round face framed in a habib. After dinner we drove up to the Basma Hotel, settled in then went to the Nubian Museum.

Nubian Museum
in a spacious building tracing the successive Nubian civilisations with their temples. They never really stood a chance against their stronger northern neighbours and adopted most of the Pharonic culture. But this part of Egypt is different – darker, hotter, poorer.

Egypt - Day 11 - Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel
Up at
3 am to drive to Abu Simbel. Through the desert past recently settled farmland, new canals to the mighty Ramses II temple facing south. It looked magnificent in the early morning light. Lifted up and back from its original site, four seated Rameses with one head toppled in a 27 BC earthquake. Nefertari’s temple was also impressive.

Found Drovetti’s graffiti. Everyone was satisfied that the long trip had been worth it. At £60 each – a bargain.

Then began the long drive back to Luxor – good fun really with lively talk.

Ate in Africa, a local West Bank restaurant (30 meal, 15 beer). Usual lentil soup, meat and vegetables but a good band and some great dancing from the waiters an a young boy. This was exactly the dances described in Shahhat; one with a staff waved above the head and forward and backward steps, another with a scarf tied round the waste, sharp hip movements on drum beats and much shaking of the touché. No women here and the whole thing reeked of homoeroticism – not uncommon according to the book.

It was a short walk straight up the road from the local ferry landing. Nice to cross the Nile in the dark with the moon bright. We passed another restaurant/bar where the guys were clearly drunk. One was throwing up. Date wine and other spirits are commonly drunk, despite Islamic disapproval. Hashish is also common. There’s a café/bar every 20 yards with med lounging, pipes in mouths, chatting, playing dominoes, cards. This is a ‘blokes’ paradise. Never did see a women in any of these places.

Back on the ferry and a horse calesh home with Carl up on the front seat, Ken and I in the back. The usual rude driver full of crap jokes – my Ferrari, Asda price ….Lots of them are rogues. They always want more at the end of the journey. Don’t expect change – they’ll simply gallop off. They’ll even lie about how much you’ve given them. Good fun but a test of one’s patience with ‘cultural differences’.

Egypt - Day 9 - Souk time

Town for water and a walk to the station (now nearly complete). Looks good in a grandiose style. Checked out the train times to Aswan – 7. 8 and 9.30 (35 EG one way first class). The trains are absurdly cooled in first class. You almost need winter clothing to endure the journey.

Tennis in afternoon. They're adding two new courts that will be ready on teh day we leave. Fun doubles with Gil, Carl, Ken, Danny, Miguel and myself.

A shop in the new souk – four headscarf’s for Joseph (12 EG each) and some scarves for Gil (30 each)then across by local ferry and Tuts for lunch. Back to hotel.

Egypt - Day 8 - Many leave, Ken arrives

Callum in front of Luxor Temple. Fun swim in infinity pool. Large group leaves - Ken arrives. Ate on terrace.

Colossi of Memnon
Further archaeological work is being done on several sites at Karnak, the Ramasseum and other west bank temples. I always enjoy seeing the two Colossi of Memnon (misnomer). They are, in fact, Amenhotep III, and stood in front of his mortuary temple, now completely ruined. This gives you some idea of what the later Rameses II statue would have looked like, the one lying on its front.

These statues were regularly flooded by the Nile inundations and have some interesting graffiti including Hadrian in 13 AD along with verse from his court poet. 150 years earlier Septimus Severus repaired the statues, damaged in the 27 BC earthquake. You can still see the blocked rework.

Egypt - Day 7 - Rmasseum, Deir el-Medina and Convent

family went to West bank by taxi (up to 80 EG this year). Started with the Ramasseum. At the gate there were about a hundred Egyptians working in an excavation. It looked very efficient. Met a very nice chap from Sheffield (a fluid engineer) and sought out graffiti (Belzoni) and battle scenes. Rameses dressed as Osiris and the great fallen statue. Annoying guide. Up through the magazines to the Roman Street and pottery. This often overlooked site is really worth a visit. Its ruinous state makes it even more interesting.

The graffiti is an interesting aspect of Egyptian history as the country has long had its invaders and tourists who have stopped in its temples and recorded their names. Many are unhurried serifed scripts, carefully engraved. They include ancient travellers such as Persian soldiers, Greek travellers and Romans. The modern era is visible with Pokocke and Norden (early 18th century), French invaders such a Denon, British soldiers, that Italian giant and founder of modern Egyptology Belzoni, his rival Drovetti, and wave after wave of curious European and American travellers. It is worth getting to know some of these names as their stories are fascinating. The Valley of the Kings, Ramasseum and Abu Simbel are much more interesting when one reads about how they were discovered and excavated.

British Museum
Visits to the British museum and Louvre will also be enhanced as each piece can be traced back to its original site. In the British Museum, the giant head in red granite (Thotmes III) was found by Belzoni in 1817, and is from Karnak. The right arm is from the same colossus. The altar with the six divinities in polished red granite is also from Karnak.

The family in painted limestone is a Belzoni piece found in Luxor.. The giant seated statue (Amenhetep III) was fund by Belzoni behind the Colossi of Memnon in 1818 (you can see Belzoni’s name on the base).

There’s a two wooden Ka figures from the tomb of Rameses 1 discovered by Belzoni in the Valley of the Kings, opened in 1817.

The masterpiece is the red granite upper body of Rameses II taken from the Ramesseum, one of a pair. The other can still be seen in situ. Search for Belzoni’s name in the ruins, I saw it twice.

The hawk-headed sphinx in sandstone is from Abu Simbel as was the upper part of a huge statue of a Rameses queen and another with a heavy wig and crown. A kneeling figure in limestone is also from the temple as is the dog-headed ape. Confiscated from the French were the red fist of Rameses II from Memphis, the black obelisks and the agglomerate sarcophagus of Nectanebo II the last native Pharaoh of Egypt – used as a bath in Alexandria, hence the holes in the side. And, of course, the Rosetta Stone with its Hieroglyphic, Demotic and Greek scripts – the key to unlocking modern Egyptology.

And don’t forget Seti I’s sarcophagus brought back from his tomb by Belzoni and rejected by the British Museum, now in the basement of the excellent Soames Museum in London. This is a masterpiece. Go on one of their candle-lit tours.

Deir el-Medina (Monastery of the town)
OK, back to Egypt and on to Deir el-Medina, the worker’s village, purpose built for the tomb builders and inhabited for 400 years from about 1500 BC. It has 68 near identical, tightly packed houses with two man rooms a couple of small rooms, a cellar and a terrace. You can still see the entire village from any of the steep valley sides as the tops of all of the houses have been lopped off revealing every single room. It was clearly planned and built to order. The main street is clearly visible with the north gate. It was enclosed in an enclosure wall and the cemetery lay on the western slope of the valley with its pyramid tombs, some of which can still be visited.

We met Sarah and co, then went into the two tombs near the modern entrance.

We then walked through the village to the small Ptolemaic temple (with its rude reliefs). This temple was built 900 hundred years after the village was abandoned in 100 BC. It became a Coptic church.

We also walked round the great clay pit. This exhausted clay pit released thousands of ostrica which proved invaluable in understanding ordinary life in ancient Egypt. Finally into a third tomb. These are fantastically fresh in colour and design. The villagers lived in simple identical houses and walked up to the right over into the Valley of the Kings half an our away, staying in the Valley, returning after 10 days work for 2 days holiday. They were paid in goods as Egypt never had a money-based economy. Barter was the means of exchange.

On to the Convent of some ancient martyr who tied his beard to the roof while he read the gospels (to stop him falling asleep). The 27 nuns scrape by selling peanuts and honey. They seemed a chirpy lot and were pleased to show us around. It is a poor community with basic furnishings and handwritten accounts of miracles on the wall. One explained how a man had become stuck nearby in the desert when a man emerged with a water jug. He filled the tank wit water and the car could be driven off! Oh yeah! They all lived in tiny beehive cells. We bought some honey for £1.50, which they get from another convent, and paid the security guards a couple of pounds EG.

Taxi driver took us to Tutankhamen’s restaurant on the Nile shore. I spoke to two Archaeologists who recommended the place, got the prices and returned that night via the local ferry. Great food – especially the spinach at 40 per person – no alcohol. Back across by local ferry, although I was left behind negotiating about trip to and from the Movenpick.

Egypt - Day 6 - Ballon over West bank

Balloon trip
Up for 5 am pick-up. Across the
Nile in the dark by boat, in which we got a safety briefing (which was duly ignored in the real flight). Then out of the darkness the balloon reared up as a huge scarlet shape in the night as the burners lit it from the inside - it appeared on and off as the burners ignited. Fantastic sight. A small army of guys held on to ropes and we were tethered to a truck until the balloon was fully inflated. We then rushed down a the slope and climbed into the huge basket. The gas burner was hot, scorching my bald patch, and loud. Then off we went. Silent and quiet, punctuated by the roar of the burner being opened. These were the balloons behind us.

Right across the front of the
West Bank monuments – Hetshepsut’s Temple, Rammasseum, Memnon’s Statues, Medinet Habu, Worker’s Village, the Convent and other unexcavated sites. One of the surprises is the sheer number of temples still to be excavated.

We s
kimmed sugar beet fields, then up again for some 360 degree turns and the sunrise. Then out into the desert. skimming the surface, grazing a hillock and down for a perfect landing. The army of helpers had sped across to deinflate the balloon on a huge sheet to protect it from the desrt rocks. We danced and sang. This is the basket - it was huge. Fantastic ride.

Back to hotel knackered but exhilarated.

has been scamming tourists for at least 2,500 years so one would be foolish to expect a scam-free trip. A few of my favourites include:

  1. The taxi driver in Luxor who waits on the hotel bus to arrive, spots you and claims to be the breakfast chef who does the eggs. After much shaking of hands he claims that he drives a taxi for a couple of hours for his dad who’s 72, then the sting – would you like to go anywhere. He’s been at this for years.
  2. Calesh drivers will NOT give you change. They’ll drive off pretending to go for change and you’ll never see them again.
  3. Don’t change money for pound coins – it’s an excuse to diddle you.
  4. You agree a calesh fare in pounds and they claim it was for English pounds which is ten times more expensive
  5. Don’t take a trip to a shop, restaurant or market with anyone from the street.
  6. The calesh driver will charge a tip for the horse!

We’re fair game really.

Egypt - Day 5 - Sahhat

Crocodile Island
Lazy day in hotel reading, swimming, tennis. Our island, Crocodile Island, was at one time infested with the beasts. There's none below the Aswan dam now, apart from one adult and four tiny babies in our hotel zoo. We got to hold the babies, that don't eat from November to March.

We also have a resident camel, called Cleopatra, and donkeys. Donkeys are everywhere in Egypt. We also saw loads of camels, many in the backs of trucks being taken to market. There are more beasts of burden in this part of the world than cars.

In 1976 Richard Critchfield spent a year shadowing villagers in a
West Bank village across from our hotel. These were true fellaheen, agricultural workers and the account is published in ‘Shahhat’. The word fellah means to till the soil and that’s what these people have dome for millennia in the Nile Valley, using the shaduf (well sweep) and saquai (cow drawn water wheel). The women still use kohl to blacken their eyes, like their pharaonic ancestors and henna to redden their hair. The men still shave off their body hair and the book is shocking in its portrayal of poverty, adultery, drunkenness, violence. sodomy and prostitution. One scene will shock your Western values to the core.

Their world was changed in 1971 with the completion of the high dam. For centuries they dammed back the flood waters to let the new silt settle and let the water drain back into the Nile with a lazy summer. Now they get more crops but have to use fertiliser and work harder. The ground suffers from loss of silt, salinity, alkalinity, water logging and bilharzias. They are also more reliant on government inspectors, factories for the new sugar cane crop and taxes. The huge rise in population from 2.5 million in the early 19th century to over 75 million today is astounding (it was 1-7 million across the Pharaonic period rising to 20 million in Roman times.

The tribes include the Jamasah, water carriers and of low caste, the Bedouin of Gourna (rogues) the Coptic Christians (dirt poor – literally as they live on the edge of the desert) and Horobat’s (tomb robbers). Shahat is ideal for those that want a read beyond Ancient Egyptology

Egypt - Day 4 - Party time!

Party time!
Jed was 18 today and his father organised a fine party time in the bar. All of us dressed up in Egyptian or Roman garb. Gil – Isis (long white dress, golden necklace and golden disc and horned hat). Carl – mummy in sarcophagus (cardboard with hieroglyphics and vulture). Callum – Anubis (black teeshirt, trousers and cardboard head of Anubis). Me – fellaheen. Miguel – belly dancer (worryingly realistic and full of eastern promise). Jackie – Cleopatra (fantastic wig and jewellery). Danny – obelisk (cardboard). Josh and Trash – pyramid (khakhi coloured tent). Started with meal on terrace and speech by Jed’s dad John – delivered in mock-Roman prose. Very funny. His mum and dad made a fine Anthony and Cleopatra.

Then into the bar for a knees-up – karaoke followed by dancing. Miguel did an extraordinary erotic dance while Jed sat on a seat in the middle of the dance floor. He kept in character before and after shooting sexy glances, mincing about, running his veil around his neck. The waiters were astonished. Homosexuality is pretty common in the Arab world and this was way beyond any normal public display allowed in normal Egyptian society. Interestingly, we were to witness an extremely similar dance performed by a young boy and waiter just days later in an Egyptian restaurant.

Took a one hour Arabic lesson, laid on for free by the Hotel, delivered by the sports coach, who basically handed out a sheet, read each phrase one by one and expected us to repeat it. The retired gynaecologist was having none of this and started to construct sentences as soon as he had enough words to string together. This was off-script for our teacher. We three pupils ended up discussing and teaching ourselves. One older guy was a retired gynaecologist who had worked in Egypt. I enjoyed practising the numbers in the gym as the coach could correct my pronunciation. With a little regular repetition and reinforcement they started to stick.

Education in Egypt
Pharaonic teaching was basic and in fact literacy was limited to a very few – some estimate as little as 0.4% of the population. Corporate punishment was common with the rod always on hand. There is ample evidence for the teaching of writing from discarded ostrica. Reading and writing were confined to Kings, priests and administrators.

Islamic teaching from its inception was wholly rooted in the Koran (which means recitation). Children are taught to learn as many of the 500 suras as they can master from an early age and the Egyptian government even offers cash prizes for those that can recite the entire work. Madrassa-based education depended on the deep embedding of the Koran and all else sprang from this deep-seated belief. Modern fundamentalism rejects most secular teaching and law. This ‘learn by rote’ approach may explain the fanatical and unshakeable belief that reaches its most extreme in suicide bombers, who despite the Koran’s explicit rules on not committing suicide, convince themselves that paradise awaits them. Koranic belief becomes so ingrained in that it is not questioned. Islam (literally means submission) thus erases critical judgement.

We see exactly the same phenomena in fundamentalist Christians, whose biblical recitation blinds them in exactly the same way. I have had direct experience of this. As a board member of the Brighton Dome and Festival I have been lobbied by these fanatics. They even write to me! In a debate organised by the Festival we witnessed several stand up and argue that we were all damned. There was no debate. Their faith was indeed unshakeable - and unpleasant. I have this vision of heaven or paradise inhabited purely by fundamentalist Americans and suicide bombers. That’s one holiday I won’t be taking.

Egypt - Day 3 - Birdwatching

Birdwatching on the Nile
Birdwatching at
6 am. 34 species racked up in two hours - honestly! Nice walk round the island. Lots of birds on the river, riverbanks and fields. The guide was a little dull, but functional. The egrets, ducks, herons and kingfishers gazed, paddled and hovered at the river bank. Kites were seen gliding around and small flocks of migratory birds from as far away as India were in the fields. Wagtails wagged and European and Egyptian swallows swooped. The most exotic species were the green bee-eaters and tame hoopes with their frilled heads (see pic). Surprising amounts of seagulls were in the middle of the river, hundreds of miles from the sea, effectively in the middle of the desert.

Bumped into some kids going to school. Egyptian kids seem very happy and confident. They’re always saying ‘Hello’ and are often eager to practise their English. I was mobbed later in Luxor (see pic) with a group eager to use their mobile phone cameras. They were delightful. They’re forever waving to us in our taxi or bus when we venture out of the town. They can be mischievous. I remember them whipping a donkey to trot out in front of our taxi on the way to Aswan. I could see them doubled up with laughter as we skidded around the unfortunate beast.

It was good to get some knowledge of the local wildlife as the birdlife is abundant and always interesting to watch. Some of these species can be seen on the wall paintings and reliefs in temples and tombs. It’s a case of a little knowledge going a long way. I was pleased that I had brought my binoculars and could sit at breakfast, happy that I could spot several species. The boys thought this was the most embarrassing, nerdiest thing, they had ever seen, but at 50 I am beyond shaming.

The river, gardens and fields provided enough habitat and food for the abundant birdlife and trees had been growing for some time including huge African trees with thorn on their bark, eucalyptus, pine, palms, banana, mango, orange and lemon. The thorned bark tree produced pods that exploded showering the garden with cotton wool. Inside were small brown seeds dispersed by the wind. Others produced long thin sausage pods over a foot long with their seeds safely inside. These are designed to protect the seeds from fire, when the wooden pod is burnt away releasing the seeds to germinate in the newly scorched open habitat. Other shed flat wooden pods, again a protective device.

After breakfast I went into town and agreed the deal with Mr Jolly for Abu Simbel and balloon rides. I had time to kill so went down to El Khataby’s restaurant and asked for a discount. They agreed 25%, then the owner appeared and added a 2 for 1 offer on drinks and cheap ten-pin bowling in his waterfront club. They seem desperate for business. I took his card.

The Loomimg Tower
afternoon sitting about reading Lawrence Wright’s ‘The Looming Tower’, a phrase from the Koran used by Bin Laden as a signal to the 9/11 pilots. This is the definitive and detailed account of the rise of Al Queda, showing its deep roots in Egypt going back to earlier in the 20th century. I’ve become as interested in Egypt’s modern history as its ancient past, although there are few parallels, apart from the obvious geographic constraints, which drove its modern militants to operate abroad.

Bana, Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood
Hasan al-Bana was the foun
der of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. He was assassinated in 1949 while a young Sayyid Qutb (pronounced kuh-tub) was studying in the US. He had just published Social Justice in Islam and was shocked by the racism he encountered and witnessed in the US along with their unashamed support for Israel. He was radicalised by his experience in the US and rejected their values. A surprising number of Islamic intellectuals and terrorists have lived in the US. When he returned to Cairo in 1950, the corrupt and corpulent King Farouk was lazing in yachts on the Riviera while the Muslim Brotherhood created their own ‘countersociety’ (carefully chosen word), not political party. They had their own schools, hospitals and even army. The government dissolved the Brotherhood in 1948 when it had more than 1 million members in a population of 18 million. It simply went underground with a 'cell' structure that was to prove effective decades later. Nasser exiled Farouk in 1952 but it was in 1966 that the intellectual force behind radicalism, Qutb, was finally hanged.

Anwar Sadaat took over in 1970 and agreed a deal with the Muslim brotherhood if they renounced violence. He emptied the prisons, banned the nihab from Universities and granted women rights such as divorce. He was assassinated in 1981 by Lieutenant Islambouli who said ‘I have killed the Pharao
h!” as he emptied his machine gun into the defiant president.

Hosni Mubarek took over and took immedaite action filling the prisons with fundamentalists. It was in these torture-ridden prisons that many of the later terrorists were nurtured. There were great show trials and it was here that Zawahiri, the wily doctor, became a leader.
Zawahiri was to emerge as the smart, Islamacist underground leader creating al-Jihad .

It is difficult to discuss politics in Egypt as policemen and informers are everywhere. Taxi drivers will not speak in earshot of strangers or policemen, but will quietly curse Mubarek in private. I met not one person who supported Mubarak, the common charge being corruption.

e had

Called back later and guess what – back to El Khatabys. Food was OK but bar and bowling rocked.