Not Even Arab Spring Chaos Has Dampened Egypt’s Glory [analysis]

Air flight landed in Cairo, my expectations were of chaos, fighting and terror as we have been seeing in the media.

A lot has happened in this historical country since 2011 the country was not spared by the Arab Spring that saw the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, the former president for 29 years, and left the country in chaos. With the recent court ruling to execute another former president, Mohamed Morsi, I was worried this was not the right time to visit Egypt. But shockingly, things were different.

For all the three weeks I spent in Egypt in May, I did not see or hear any gunfire or riots. The only gunshots I heard were for wedding ceremonial purposes when a soldier celebrated his wedding at the hotel I was staying in. We were a group of 25 journalists from different parts of Africa and our trip took us to different cities in Egypt including Alexandria, Hurghada, Cairo and Suez Canal, and there was no chaos.

Apart from the heavy traffic, the country’s peace shocked me I did not even encounter a case of pick-pocketing or snatching phones. In Alexandria and Hurghada, it seems despite these cities being in Africa, black people do not come along everyday, thus many of the residents were excited to see us they took photos with us and for a moment there, we felt like the Egyptian pyramids must feel, if only they had a voice!

Like South Africans, this economic powerhouse of the continent talks about Uganda being in Africa as if for them they belong elsewhere never mind that their main source of livelihood, the River Nile, starts its long journey north from Uganda. Their seeming conviction that they are not part of “that wretched continent” was interesting. Others referred to us collectively as Africans or Negroes…

Two Egyptian boys selling ice cream at the Attaba Square market in Cairo came running after us saying: “We love you Africa, we are also blacks.” To confirm his love, one of them handed me a free ice cream.

For a country with a population of 90 million and about 20 million tourists each year, a sub-Sahara African indeed disappears in the masses I mean, I only counted three Nigerians!

Unlike in Uganda where shops open in the morning hours, in Egypt business opens at midday but one can shop upto as late as 2am.

EGYPTIAN TOURISM

If you thought Ugandan drivers were mad, go to Cairo. Most drivers are so undisciplined, causing traffic jams and making Ugandan taxi drivers look like saints. The Egyptians overspeed, hoot unnecessarily, drive recklessly and also cross anyhow from one lane to another.

Cairo is one of the busiest cities in the world with all kinds of vehicles on the streets including the very old DMCs mixing in with the spanking-new models. The fly-overs and the metro train help to reduce on the traffic, but the city is notorious for its traffic jam especially during rush hours, thanks to a big population in the metropolitan, estimated at 25 million.

Even with its recent chaos, Egypt remains one of the top destinations in the world and makes for an unforgettable experience due to its rich culture, ancient civilization and history that is well-protected in the form of the pyramids, the Qaitbay citadel, museums, boat cruise on the Nile, the Alexandria digital library, beaches and resorts along the Red and Mediterranean seas.

Tourists sun-bathing at the Grand Seas Beach on the shores of Red Sea in Hurghada city

Our first tour took us to Qaitbay Citadel in Alexandria, Egypt’s former capital and trade city. Built in 1477 AD, this fortress still shines impressively 300km from Cairo at the Mediterranean Sea. According to Unesco, the citadel is among the top five tourists’ wonders in the world due to its structure and rich history that attracts thousands of tourists daily.

“Egyptian soldiers used to hide in the Citadel to protect and monitor any attacks and evading ships from the Mediterranean Sea,” Dr Sherif Shonky, the general manager of Training and Media Centre Institute of Egypt, said.

Then there is Hurghada city, a new city located on the southern coast of the Red Sea. Hurghada is simply beautiful the spectacular clarity of the Red Sea waters and some of the most exotic seascapes will keep this place in my memory for decades.

Hurghada used to be a desert 20 years ago but is now fast-developing into a tourist centre. It is mainly occupied by so many Europeans and Americans that the common currencies used in shops are more Euros and US dollars than Egyptian pounds.

HANDS OFF THE NILE

Yes, I had to travel all the way to Egypt to enjoy a cruise on home girl, River Nile. Cruising the Nile is a popular way of touring Upper Egypt. The Nile has been Egypt’s lifeline since ancient times and there is no better way to trace the passage of Egypt’s history than to follow its course.

Twice we dined on Saramaya and Nile Crystal boats, as they sailed on the Nile. One would not notice the boats were moving unless one peeped outside and saw the buildings filing past. Uganda may be the Source of the Nile, but Egypt has baptized itself the Gift of the Nile because its civilization and general livelihood have been handed to it by the resources from the great river. Had it not been for the Nile, Egypt would be a barren, lifeless land.

Tourists on a boat cruise on River Nile

The Nile is also the primary source of fresh water in Egypt and once one sees how much this country depends on that river, one would understand why their government takes all issues concerning the Nile waters – even in other countries through which it flows – almost personal.

Soldiers protect the Nile 24 hours a day to make sure the water flows smoothly without any contamination. Egypt’s other water bodies are salty and cannot be used for agriculture. The Nile is also the reason why Cairo has such a large population is in Cairo everyone wants to be nearer to the Nile and practice farming using irrigation with the river water, compared to other parts of the country that are in the desert.

PYRAMIDS OF GIZA

Of course if you visited Egypt and missed the pyramids of Giza, that trip would have been wasted. Although the place is very hot at about 40 degrees Celsius, tourists throng to it and climb the hill to reach the top where the pyramids are located.

I always thought tourists enter inside the pyramids and see the tombs of the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and their queens, but the pyramids have no entrance. We only viewed them from afar, since they are heavily protected. According to the Egyptologist and also the tour guide, Amr Atef, the heavy deployment is because many people pose as tourists but with ill intentions.

“The pyramids are one of the world’s top ancient wonders still existing today,” he said.

There are about 80 pyramids known today from ancient Egypt. The three largest and best-preserved of these were built at Giza at the beginning of the Old Kingdom. The most well-known of these pyramids was built for the pharaoh Khufu and is known as the ‘Great Pyramid’.

Egyptologist and tour guide Amr Atef points at the three great pyramids

According to the Qur’an, Pharaoh Khufu was buried in the pyramids with his close family because they did not believe in Allah and the land rejected their bodies. However, according to Documentation Centre for Culture and Nature Public Relations Specialist Heba Elmessiry, Khufu and his close family preferred to be buried in the Pyramids because they believed they would be moved to another house in the afterlife.

According to Amr Atef, the pyramids were built on the west bank of River Nile since Khufu believed it was the side of heaven, even though he never believed in God. They also wanted pyramids to stay untouched by possible floods. He said there are at least 80 pyramids in Egypt and all of them are tombs for ancient kings, queens and their families.

Atef told the journalists on tour that there are many theories on how they moved the blocks when they were building the Great Pyramid.

“One is that they used logs to roll them along. Another is that they dragged the blocks on sledges hauled by gangs of slaves,” he said.

Atef said all the pyramids were plastered with Tura white limestone to reflect the rays of the sun, which is why it is always hot at the pyramids they attract direct light from the sky. The great pyramid is 244ft long and 66.6ft high, while the width is 14.5ft.

EGYPTIAN MUSEUM

The Egyptian museum is home to at least 120,000 relics of ancient Egyptian remains, and it is one of Cairo’s top attractions where all the past kings of Egypt’s monuments are kept.

Highlights here include objects from the tomb of Tutankhamen and the Royal Mummy Room containing 27 royal mummies from the pharaonic times. After three weeks in this great country and seeing so much, including the Egyptian Media Production City – the country’s answer to Hollywood – I felt like we needed much more time to really soak in Egypt’s sights and sounds.

Source : The Observer