29 January 2011


I have very mixed feeling about what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen right now. On the one hand I am afraid of what might become of these countries, better the devil you know, than the devil you don't. What many people in the West fail to understand about Arabic nations is that they have never had a democracy. They are all Fiefdoms of one sort or another and have always been so. It has taken us in Europe over 400 years to arrive at the democracies we have. For us to impose democracy on the Arabs in the case of Iraq is wrong. So on the other hand I am now hopeful that as it would seem the democratisation of Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen is coming from within, it may work.

I spent time in Yemen and Egypt on the way through the Red Sea during my circumnavigation.  So have first hand knowledge of these countries.
On the first occasion I was in Egypt I got stuck in Port Tawfiq, Suez with a broken gear box and ended up staying 4 months there, before I was able to continue. After my experiences I just had to learn the language, which Hanna and I did by going to a language school in Cairo three times.
 Each time it was an adventure par excellence. The school was in the northern part of the city and we had a flat on the 14 floor with two balconies which gave us great views in two different directions.

This is one looking north.

Cairo is one of my all time favourite cities. It never sleeps and there is a constant hustle and bustle even late at night. Hanna and I love to hear the call of the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Our block of flats was served by a small mosque next door and the Muezzin came from Aswan and even today I think he was one of the best I have ever heard. 

Our Muezzin

El Quba where our flat was has no hotels or tourists and on our first trip out from there it took us some time to find a taxi  that was prepared to take us back. The first one we stopped refused on the basis that tourists had no business there! In fact we were not tourists, we were "Taliban" and had ID cards to prove it. These allowed us to get into all historical sites and the Egyptian museum at students rates. "Taliban" is Arabic for two students.
On another visit  we missed being blown up by a bomb in Khan al Khalili by 24 hours. Where we had stood the next day French tourists were blown up!
I have found that in all the Arabic countries I have visited, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Syria the people to be extremely friendly and hospitable. In Egypt, through our teacher we were introduced to the upper class intellectuals and only in all the other countries have we had social contact with the lower classes. They all have one thing in common, their friendliness and hospitality.
My thoughts at this time, therefore, is with our many Friends in Cairo, may they stay safe and may the changes that are about to happen, bring them peace, prosperity and perhaps a proper democracy.

Sunset over Cairo

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