Friday, January 05, 2007

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
Nice
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.

Sadaat
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.

Muberak
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.

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