On The Nile

In early 2012 Anya and I went on a river cruise on the Nile. 

We went as a part of an organised group.

Normally we much preferred to travel on our own, as individuals, determining where we went and where we stayed. But there was little choice in the matter.

Egypt was embroiled in a political crisis.

Two years before, not long after our first visit to Egypt, a wave of popular protest in the Middle East known as the ‘Arab Spring’ arrived in Egypt and led to weeks of protests and the fall of the dictatorial Mubarak government. Free and fair elections were organised, but this led to the resounding victory of the Islamic fundamentalists – the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Party – whose agenda was to turn Eygpt into a Sunni version of Iran. They wanted to base the constitution on the Sharia and furthermore, were equivocal towards Egypt’s ancient past which they regarded as heretical. 

In the euphoria of the Arab Spring, western journalists had failed to see that in Egypt there was a huge discrepancy between the people living in the cities and those living in the rural areas. In the case of the former, there were high levels of education along with the widespread use of social media and the internet; in the case of the latter, who constitued the big majority of the population, matters were very different. The women were burka clad slaves whose prime function was to produce children; illiteracy rates were high and the villages were controlled by fundamentalist imams.

Religion, low education and gender oppression provided the back drop for the spectacular success of the fundamentalists at the elections. 

In the meantime, the army became restive and the very urban dwellers, who had brought down the dictator Mubarak, were determined not to accept government by religious fanatics. The country slid into anarchy as its irreconcilable contradictions rose to the surface. There were strikes, attacks, and violent episodes. Tourism, the life blood of the economy, plummeted.

It was only on the Nile that the safety of foreign tourists could be guaranteed by the army. This was a far cry from the Egypt we were familiar with, where one could travel almost anywhere. Nevertheless, we went, drawn by the lure of the greatest outdoor musuem in the world, a country with a history like no other….

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Casuality Part 1: Egypt 2011

Late one afternoon, I twisted my ankle.

It happened whilst I was descending a short flight of stone steps in the temple at Karnak, just outside the city of Luxor. In the fading light, mesmerised by the massive stone columns all around me, the largest in the ancient world, I missed a step, stumbled and fell.

When I got up, my ankle hurt.

That night, back in my room, it began swelling up.

I was staying in a seedy end of Luxor, in a low budget hotel. It reminded me of Old Dehli; there was a maze of narrow streets thronging with people and traffic. I liked the area. It was boisterous, run down, and colourful. It was a place where one could get pleasantly lost in, especially in the evenings, when it was cool and everyone appeared on the streets.

But that evening, I couldn’t go anywhere.

The pain in my ankle was searing.

I hobbled to a small backstreet restaurant but half way through my meal, with the pain throbbing in my ankle, I realised I needed medical attention. It occurred to me that I might have broken my ankle and it that was the case, then my trip was over.

The owner of the restaurant ordered me a taxi and told the driver to take me to the casuality department of the nearest hospital.

Casuality?

All I needed was a doctor. But I was in no mood to argue the point. The taxi appeared and away we went …… Read more