|Hamid, the camel, is waiting for you|
Can you imagine the Pyramids without tourists?
There weren’t any.
When we first arrived there was a group of maybe twenty-five Korean Christians. All in identical red t-shirts with some slogan like “Asians for Jesus” written on them. Baseball caps. Comfy athletic shoes. Cameras hanging around their necks.
But they were leaving as we were arriving. And there was just me and my friend Daniela and a few Egyptians on camels and horses trotting around the site. Girls squealing as the camels snorted. An occasional Frenchman or German walking along snapping photos. Egyptian hawkers selling red green blue silver pyramid momentos. .Papyrus paintings of Isis and Horos.
And silence. The hiss of wind in our ears. The pyramids rising out of the little block of desert allocated to them. The suburban sprawl of Giza, now a part of Cairo, creeping like runaway weeds, spreading their vines to the very border of this antiquity.
And Hamid, the decked-out camel, jaws circling first to the right and then to the left, patiently stands in his festive blanket and dangling pom-poms in front of one of the most historic sights on earth, indifferent to it all.
Cairo was Cairo. A massive, polluted, over-crowded, traffic disaster. Life post-revolution the same as life pre-revolution. Touts touted, taxi-drivers sat in unmoving traffic, the Metro delivered its passengers throughout the city, people shoved their way into the already packed cars. The ladies of the “ladies only” car adjusted their head scarves. Big-eyed children held their mothers' hands and stared at the strange faces of the tourists.
People hussled to their jobs. Waited in lines to buy hot rounds of pita bread fresh out of the oven. Lived their lives.
But something had changed.
“Welcome to Egypt!” they sang out, smiling. At Tahrir Square hawkers sold the new red, black, and white flags everywhere. Pins. Momentos of 25th February when Mubarak fled.
“We are very proud and happy,” they told me. Person after person giving a thumbs up sign and saying, “Revolution.”
“It’s going to be good,” said Mohammed, our waiter at a restaurant on the West Bank of Luxor. “We are free now. Things are going to improve. We had our first election in thirty years. The military here is good. Not like the police. The military helps the people.”
In Luxor, Daniela and I sit in spotlights of sunshine, leaning against the massive papyrus-shaped stone pillars in the Great Hypostyle Hall in the Amun Temple at Karnak. For ten minutes we sit in complete silence. No one else in sight. Finally one German couple walks slowly through the pillar forest snapping photos.
And in the dim light of the Sacred Barque Sanctuary, six “new-agers” stand in a circle around the sacred relic. Their arms at their sides, bent at a forty-five degree angle at their elbows, fingers spread wide, they create an “energy circle” and eyes closed, absorb the ancient mystic rays.
But what is happening in Egypt is not mystic. As day after day a country dependent on tourism for 11% of its national income awaits the return of the tourist, the new-found glow of power and joy may soon turn to scowls and empty bellies.
And what was frightening was the information given to me by a Spanish journalist friend who lives in Cairo.
“Fifteen thousand people arrested by the military during the protests have not been released,” Eva said. “The people think the military is on their side, but two top military officials were reported as saying: ‘We’ll make them (the people) miss Mubarak.’”
In the English language Egyptian Gazette, an article tells me that police security guards have returned to the campus of Alexandria University. Another article relates that all “strikes have been banned under the new Emergency Act.”
“It’s all temporary,” the new Prime Minister says, smiling and reassuring.
Meanwhile leaders of the revolution attempt to go from protesters to politicians: creating “parties,” establishing platforms, discussing reforms. The “Islamic Brotherhood compaignes among the poor and uneducated. And the military tightens its controls over the people.
What happens next in Egypt cannot be predicted.
But for sure, if the tourists don’t return, the entire
population will suffer.
The blue Nile continues its path through the desert and palmeries. White egrets swoop. Single-sailed feluccas glide gracefully into the sunset. And the people of Egypt await a new dawn of prosperity and freedom.