Egypt A Place of Thousand Lessons
While in Egypt, thoughts of different hues crossed my mind about why and how Egypt assumed such an important place to the visitors, tourists and travelers. What I saw and observed in Egypt dazzles my mind especially its umatched history among world civilizations, scholarship and cosmopolitan nature, yet one thing sets my thought off balance; the striking contrast between temporal things and condition of impermanence of our life that imposes itself visible upon every edifice or antique. My contemplation is always reinforced by the deeping silence of winds in the cemetery of those iconic personalities right from Pharos epoch (thousand of years ago), to Ottomon dynasty. Just one tiny circumference of land in Darrasa housing corpses of various ethinicities; Turks, Arabs, Africans amongst many others. Domes constructed in reverance of those dead people are commonplace, but time refuses and exhausted all efforts to sustain the momentum. Labels worn out, glasses broken, vicinity untidy and inner apartment shabby and dusty. Hardly one claims linkage of any kind. This is the endless cycle of flowering and decay characterizing our lives, but few understand.
Egypt is indeed an embodiment of culture and influence. And is perhaps one of the few places in the world where past and present intricately hug each other. Egypt is the confluence of oriental, occidental influences, Coptic and Islamic bearings. If one word suffices to decribe Egypt in-toto, there may be no better than “The Citadel of Human Civilization”. The sprawling city of Cairo epitomises a mixture of modernity and a touch of Islamic heritage. Famous Azhar Universiry (our host) stands tall like giant among dwarfs in the city. With over two million students, out of which more than forty thousand are on scholarship from Islamic World. Azhar long history of fighting tyrant rulers has been a source of inspiration for many generations to come.
The densely populated city of Cairo houses settlements, ministries, hotels, bustle streets and flyovers linking roads with far and near destinations. Tourists, natives, diplomats and foreigners/experts mutually intermingle in busses and other means of transportation. The hectic market around Azhar Mosque attests to its rich architectural masterpiece which Arabs copied from Greeks and developed, coronthian, floral arts and paintings. The marketplace stretching out to Husaini Mosque and corner shops where bookstores and kiosks turn the area one of the busiest streets in Cairo. Salahudden quarters with its splendid Mosque reminds one of the victory of Muslims over crusaders during centuries’ rivalry and war. The old Bab Nasr some kilometers away leads you to the oldest and local settlement for centuries. It still stands almost uncahanged, and in it, people of different life strata lived and vanished into thin air of history as they never breathed its fresh air.
The Nile disproportionately dividing Cairo city into two uneven parts gives it a rather unique view for the beholder. Hotels, resorts and restaurants occupy the very verge of beach sides like a beautifully embroidered piece of silk placed on a plain courtyard upon which tiny yachts and boats sail and occillate with tourists on board. The Nile was and is still symbol of life to Egyptians as it gives all what it takes to be happy. Few meters away around Nile area, stands the famous museum that houses the corpses of the infamous Pharoh Ramses II, and that of many legendary personalities. This is a further testamony about the condition of impermanence that characterizes Egypt qnd its many artifacts and edifices. The living intermingling with ghosts and their revered relics and spirits which supposed to have been lesson not a thing of pleasure as it is the case with people trooping to see Pyramids, Sphinx or visit Luxor and Aswan.
Cairo Tower also stands tall by the Nile like Eiffel Tower.Few kilometers away one sees the Tahrir square heavily guarded by security personals upon our arrival due to Covid 19 lockdown. Life-size sculptures immortalizing some iconic figures spotted Cairo’s public buildings and streets; Ali Bashas, Taha Husains and the likes. Those who did it well departed with enduring good name indelible on the sand of history, and those who messed it up disappeared, yet their houses are intact with its paraphernalia kept in museums or even abandoned, bearing witness of their temporal existence once on this planet.
Egypt witnessed and experienced different forms of leadership, power tussles, conspiracies, revolutions and executions. Rulers, emperors, colonial masters and regimes shaped in no small measure what constituted its complex or rather paradox personality. Leaders who ruled with iron fists and with no respect for human diginity had unwittingly bred citizens with mixed feelings towards rebellion and retaliation. Some Egyptians were employed to work for invaders, jews for material gains, and as gaurds for French consulates and helped contingent of scientists under Napoleon order. Clash of interest between French and Britain over resources also gave birth to diametrically a strange exposure of Egyptians to the Western polity and conspiracies. The 20-year deal to export natural gas to Israel after foreign interventions, pretentions and bargaining, became dangerously unpopular with Egyptian public and critics. Muslim Brotherhood movement which enjoys an overwhelming support and cheers from the general public was severely dealt with and painted black due to their contrary position against regimes and despotic rulers. Those arraigned before courts were charged with treason.
In Egypt, complex combination of psychlogical, sociological, economic and political factors culminated into the decline of dynasties and prepared way for new ones. So also actors, masterminders, traitors and power broakers, Twenty first century in particular witnessed birth of a new world order spearheaded by the West. Egypt in this regard, is both a melting pot as well as testing ground for charters, treaties and conventions between the West and the Islamic World. For long, Egypt has been the litmus paper for western imperialism and hegemony.For instance, Egypt had its first cinema since 1919 before many countries in the West even launched it. Soon afterwards western lifestyle becomes the popular culture; nudity in the name of fashion became order of the day. This has spread to many parts of Arab countries, because Egypt was the then model and champion of the so called modernists’ movement. A poor octogenarian lady dressed half naked, walking with efforts and fatigue and sometimes aided by her grandchildren but feels proud she is librated from shackles of Islamic dress; hijab or veil, this is commonplace in Egypt. With that, intellectual slavery set in and engulfed gullible minds.
As for Egyptians, I can’t figure out with sufficient degree of certainty, what made up their personality, and kind of social transformation that made them what they are today; Muslims, Coptic, free-thinkers, and passive or nominal folks. Interestingly, opinions of different shades are respected, and need for mutual coexistence orchastrated a good working relationship and networking to win war against the common enemy amongst citizenry. During demonstrations for instance, Christians guard Muslims just to observe prayers and vice versa. Yes Egyptians in this regard are sophisticated and civilized.
Don’t judge book by its cover.Whenever in Egypt be cautious and relate only with a reliable persons especially if money is involved. Cheerful welcome, accomodating faces, helping hands, yet a tendency to fall prey to deviat behavior, vulnerability to dubious transactions, bribe-prone corps all living side by side in Egypt. Ibn Khaldun once made similar remark when he arrived Egypt in 1382- “This Egyptians behave as though the Day of Judgement would never come”.
One thing in contrast is the Egypt unmatched Islamic scholarship and proliferation of learning centres in all branches of Sharia which since been feeding Islamic universities with scholars and academics. Learning circles, mosques, philanthropists who facilitate noble projects are beyond count. Almost all taxi drivers and traders are incessant listeners of Quranic recitation on FM radio stations. No wonder because Egypt is the birth place of famous sheikhs; Khalil al Husariy (World best model in Qur’anic recitation) and Siddiq al Manshawiy (Golden Voice). You never get fed up going to Egypt again and again. Its aroma is never resisted.
May Egypt never deteriorate, and The Nile never dry.