By Chet Yarbrough
Egypt in 2019
Written by: Chet Yarbrough
Egypt is a crossroad between Africa and Asia which makes it a prime target for colonization and control by invaders.
CLOSEUP OF THE SPHINX AT GIZA, NEAR CAIRO
The pyramids, ancient artifacts, lush farming communities, and Nile river reveal Egypt’s past and present. Egypt’s current capitol, Cairo, is the seventh most densely populated city in the world. No coal is burned to pollute the air. The Nile puts China’s Yangtze river to shame in showing less river trash and pollution.
FISHING ON THE NILE
Egyptian farms are irrigated with river water distributed by concrete and mud channels from the Nile.
Lusciously feted Nile river farmers are encouraged to use organic fertilizer, but one wonders how many chemicals are returned to the Nile unseen.
Egyptian infrastructure is burdened by lack of investment. The infrastructure for Egyptian farming is primitive by modern standards with ditch irrigation systems, antiquated farm equipment, and intense use of manual labor.
Infrastructure investment in China suggests prosperity while Egypt is foundering. Many Egyptian city and village roads are unpaved. Housing is dilapidated and poorly maintained for most of Egypt’s population.
In Egypt, food is plentiful, security paramount, and camel rides a tourist delight. The trick in riding a camel is getting on and getting off.
As a tourist in Egypt, ancient sites surpass China’s remarkable historical monuments (viewed in a previous blog). The Egyptian army seems everywhere in part because of a state-enforced draft but also because of the military’s role in governing a nation fractured by Islamic extremism. Religion’s influence in Egypt is obscured from tourist’s eyes because of the warm reception from residents but the military’s ubiquitous presence implies a different story.
The sheer size of the many Pyramids, tombs, and temples surpass the Great Wall and equal China’s remarkable Terracotta soldiers.
Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849)
What comes as a surprise from our guide (who is an Egyptologist) is how many times Egypt has been ruled by outsiders. Modern Egypt is founded by Muhammad Ali in 1805. Muhammad Ali Pasha is Albanian; not Egyptian. His dynasty is supported by the Ottoman Empire. It lasts until 1952 when a coup led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser takes control of Egypt.
Prior Muhammad Ali, exclusive Egyptian leadership is in the distant past. (The ten most famous Pharaohs ruled from 2686 BC to 1213 BC.) Of course, there were many more Egyptian dynasties (31 to be precise) but only ten marked history with Egypt’s indelible imprint. Cleopatra (principally famous for her role in the Greco/Roman incursion) is the last Pharaoh to have power. Her reign lasts 21 years; to end in 51 BC.
Egypt is a crossroad between Africa and Asia which makes it a prime target for colonization and control by invaders. The Romans, Turks, French, and English take turns at controlling Egypt. Fortresses abound along the Mediterranean and Nile built by conquerors and the conquered.
- Rashid, Egypt
- Today, Rashid shows a level of prosperity that is belied by its dirt streets.
The Rosetta Stone is found in one such fort held by the French and overcome by the English. It is found in the ancient town of Rashid which was a primary port in Egypt’s earlier history. Today, Rashid shows a level of prosperity that is belied by its dirt streets. There are mud brick manufacturing plants, burgeoning boat building businesses, and fish farming pens in Rashid–the town where the Nile enters the Mediterranean. Only a replica of the Rosetta Stone remains at the fort. The actual stone is in the British Museum in London.
BOAT BUILDING INDUSTRY IN RASHID
Penned fish farms on the Nile in Rashid
The once imagined great city of Alexandria seems a shadow of tourist’ dreams. It is burdened by lack of investment and a tax structure that works against finishing buildings. Billions of potential worth are hidden by poorly maintained buildings along the Mediterranean water front.
Still, there are great sites to see in Alexandria. There is the modern library meant to resurrect the great library of Alexandria that was destroyed twice in Egypt’s history. It is a spectacular monument to Egypt’s potential. Its modern design rivals the best libraries of the world.
Bids for modernization can be seen in some areas. There is a burgeoning Silicon Valley, with nearby gas power plants to energize new industries.
This modernization contrasts with early Christian and Muslim places of worship, the Valley of the Kings (a giant cemetery for royalty), and the restored Winter Palace in Luxor that is now a Sofitel hotel. There is the Temple de Karnak, Grande Cour with its ram’s head entry leading to an inner sanctum temple.
Many royal residences have been returned to their original beauty and become state owned and maintained public museums.
One is reminded of the monumental gap between the rich and poor in visiting island farms that are owned by singular families. They employ hundreds, and feed thousands, while prospering from the rich Nile soil. Farming is primitive by modern standards, but the production from these farms is a sight to behold.
Island farms along the Nile show why the Greco-Roman era coveted the agricultural fecundity of Egypt.
The intricacies of Egyptian hieroglyphics are explained by our guide. The volume of information is overwhelming.
The rituals of mummification and fealty are displayed in faded colors of high and low relief pictographs on ancient walls and columns. The source and provenance of limestone quarries where great blocks of rock are harvested and hauled to temple sites are a side trip on a luxurious Nile barge cruise. There are many forms of domestic travel, but none surpasses four days of a cruise on the Aida.
- Pictograph writing reveals ancient Egyptian belief in gods and goddesses; their stories of ascension, decline, death.
One of many values in a well-designed trip to a foreign country is the opportunity to meet with residents. Our trip is organized by Overseas Adventure Travel which specializes in having their tour groups offered lectures by residents of the countries that are visited.
The opportunity to hear from Christians, Muslims, Nubians, and local farmers broaden a tourist’s understanding of Egypt.
Every country of the world is complex and no brief trip will explain that complexity but these personal notes and pictures are meant to offer a peek into a mystery to all who do not, or cannot travel.