Friday, February 4, 2011

Enigmatic Egypt

I remember the day Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. A complicated man to say the least, his nationalist fervor swung both east and west on the world stage in a lifelong effort to preserve Egypt for Egyptians. Reaching back as far as World War II he was arrested for collaborating with the Axis powers in an effort to rid Egypt from British occupation. In the early 1950s he participated in ousting the last "pharaoh" of Egypt, King Farouk I. As only the third president of Egypt, on October 6, 1973 he launched the Yom Kippur War against Israel in a failed attempt to reclaim the Egyptian Sinai peninsula, lost six years previously. Four years later he famously shook the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on the White House Lawn with Jimmy Carter who helped broker what stands today as the only true peace accord within the Middle East.

Sadat paid with his life for his beliefs on October 6, 1981, in cold blood and in broad daylight while on the viewing stand marking the anniversary of taking the Suez Canal at the start of that last war. Fundamentalists in the military succeeded in killing Sadat and wounding his vice president, Hosni Mubarak, who was at his side and succeeded him that same day. It is almost exactly 30 years after that sad moment in world history and I am all the more saddened that Egypt appears to have come full circle in crisis.

From my earliest childhood I have been fascinated with the ancient civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean. I made it to Greece in 1989 and followed in 1994 to both Israel and Egypt in what to me was nothing short of a spiritual and cultural homecoming. Those who have traveled to Egypt share that chill of awe and excitement even in the Egyptian heat upon seeing the Great Pyramid. There have been very few emotionally overwhelming moments in all of my travels as standing next to the gold funeral mask of King Tutankhamen at the Cairo Museum. Desperate poverty was on display throughout the dusty environs of Cairo but my companions and I traveled freely and unimpeded during our three days in the Egyptian capital. We were profitable marks for merchants instead of political adversaries of the people.

It is sad to witness the events unfolding in Egypt, an incalculably important cultural center for the world. It is not hard to understand the aversion to bored and spoiled holidaymakers bronzing on the beaches of Sharm el-Sheikh putting everything in to their tans, little in to their manners or appreciation of the history and culture all around them even less in the way of money money in to the hands of the locals. At the same time I must consider the one trip to this remarkable land to possibly be once in a lifetime where there remains so much that has been discovered left for me to discover much less what remains buried in the sands for future generations to enjoy. I have waited my lifetime thus far to visit the wonders of the Assyrians (Syria), the palaces of the Persians (Iran) and all that lies within the Fertile Crescent through the heart of present-day Iraq. Will the current events of Egypt close this country to the world and add it to the list of "Maybe someday" destinations?

Tombs have been robbed since ancient times. The relics being destroyed today are robbing us all of what is good and glorious in the land of the Nile. For a soldier who fought the good fight, according to some, I wish Anwar Sadat could rest in peace. Sadly, I feel he would easily and eerily recognize his country as it stands now if he were alive today.

Gotta go.

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