Friday, January 05, 2007

Egypt - Day 1 - team Brighton hits Luxor

Team Brighton
We have a group of 27, all from Brighton. We flew over
France, the Alps and down past the eastern end of Crete and down the Nile. In the dusk light one can see the wide dark channel, with its narrow slither of river, run south into the desert. This is the dusk view of the swimming pool and Nile.

Strange customs
We landed, and although the airport is as modern as they come, you hit the chaos immediately. The travel agents and official web sites state that a visa is £15. In fact it is less than £10 and beware even the official bank employees who will shortchange you when you buy one before going through customs. One of our party, Henry, got no change at all! I had to get a rep to take him back through customs to reclaim his £2 change. It used to be worse, with touts pulling you down the queue then charging you for cheating on your fellow passengers. Then there’s the baggage touts who will literally pull the bag from your hands. The guys who simply lift your bag one foot into the bus will also ask for backsheesh.

The bus ride was past Luxor Temple, along the Nile and across the causeway to the Movenpick. It’s the sight of the inky Nile that’s exciting and the men in jellabbas. Some took a quick dip in the pool and we all ate on the terrace, pleased to be in our island oasis (the hotel is on an island in the middle of the Nile).

Geography shapes history
Not surprisingly
Egypt has suffered a dramatic fall in the number of tourists after the Hatsepshut temple massacre, 9/11 and bomb attacks on the Sinai sea resorts. Egypt has its problems.

For nearly 3000 years it remained relatively stable and isolated as the sinuous Nile turned it into garden of Eden, the annual inundation combined with desert sunshine to produce a unique paradise. The snake occasionally lashed out with its head to the north fighting the Hittites and Assyrians and tail to the south whipping out at the Nubians but most of the time it looked inwards. The Egyptians never developed seafaring craft to venture out into the Mediterranean, trapped as they were by winds blowing directly south. This was ideal for sail power against the current of the Nile reinforcing their inward perspective.

Eventually the Persians, Greeks and Romans battered their way in and it was to be 2,500 years before an Egyptian would rule again in 1952 – Nasser. In the meantime the Arabs brought Islam in the 7th century defining the culture until this very day.

However, trouble has always come from the north, and in 1778 Egypt became the target of the French expansionism. Napoleon quickly conquered the country and with his savants opened up the wonders of ancient Egypt, stimulating an obsession with Egyptology. The British took advantage of its unique geography to trap Napoleon and his army. Nelson sunk the French fleet at the mouth of the Nile in 1798 corking the bottle. Europe then saw Egypt as an object of study and recreation. The Suez canal, another unique geographic accident, gave it strategic importance that muddied its waters further.

Its geography has created a state in which guerrilla warfare is almost impossible. There’s nowhere to run with vast deserts east or west. Sudan, to the south has supported fundamentalist attacks, but only indirectly. The UN imposed sanctions after its security services helped in an assassination attempt on Mubarak in Ethiopia, but Egypt has control of its southern border.

The threat in the 20th century came from within as fundamentalists sought to create a pure Islamic state. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Baaba in 1928 supported by intellectuals who had been to the west but rejected its values, such as Qutb eventually created Zawahiri and many of the leaders and footsoldiers of Al Queda. A brutal game of oppression and violence has been going on from 1952 when Nasser took over attempting to bring in pan-Arab socialism. Sadaat was assassinated by fundamentalists in his own military and Mubarak has been suppressing the Islamicists for over 20 years.


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