Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt's neverending cycle

I am riveted to TV's news channels as the Egyptian revolution unfolds. It's too soon to tell how it will go, but my mind is full of Egyptian memories from nearly 10 years ago. It was 2002, just after 9/11, and it was a good time to visit as Americans were too scared to visit - wary of anywhere Islamic - and many of the great sites were virtually empty of other tourists. I loved it. The wonderful temples in the south, the fabulous statuary, art and sculpture, the stupendous skills of its pyramid builders, and the profound myths and legends.
Here's a papyrus painting I bought then, of Nut (pronounced Noot), the sky goddess.
The Egyptians were fond of painting ceilings inside temples a deep rich blue, sprinkled with stars - a design theme copied much later by medieval church builders in Europe. Nut was in charge, giving birth to the sun each morning and swallowing it each night in an endless round of light and darkness. The idea was that her great body arched protectively over the earth and all its inhabitants. So here she is carrying out her neverending duties with the starry sky above, and the busy earth below.
If Nut was still worshipped she'd sure be busy now, struggling to protect the land below as her country stumbles towards a new, uncertain future.
Even in '02 the poverty was plain to see, the infrastructure crumbling. Even then it was a bit dodgy. Fully armed tourist police accompanied us everywhere. The authorities were desperate to maintain tourism as a foreign exchange earner.
That cash flow must already have plummeted. Jobs will be disappearing. Food supplies must be running low. Cairo, always a tough city, will be an ever harder place in which to survive. Cairo is huge. Nearly 8 million are crowded in there, most of them scrabbling a life together on tiny incomes.
Even 10 years ago, people we met were derisive of their leader, Mubarak, but he had an iron grip. But it seems his time has finally come. He's just not admitting it yet...probably too busy with his hairstylist, ensuring that at 83 his hair is still black as kohl. It's as if he pretends, like the ancient mummy makers, that he can stay youthful for ever.
But one of these mornings, as Nut gives birth to the Sun yet again, the old man's reign will end. Even the pharoahs lost their power in the end.

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