Egypt in Transition

Egypt in Transition

Egypt in Transition

Egypt in Transition

Excerpt

In about A.D. 2000 a Pharaoh of the twelfth dynasty showed a fellah's prudence by building a wall across the Sinai peninsula, which came to be known as 'The Prince's Wall'. According to New Kingdom scribes he hoped to 'prevent Asian plunderers from coming to water their flocks in the river Nile'. He failed. The Prince's Wall has vanished, but the Asian plunderers and their flocks, the Shepherd Kings, Saint Mark, the Prophet's horsemen, have left their imprint on Egypt. In vain did de Lesseps sunder the two continents with his canal, or Zionism raise a thicker wall than the Prince's between Beit-Hanun and Elath: the highway is still open, the interflow of life goes on.

The swing-bridges at Ferdan and El Kantara -- though so flimsy that a tanker once swept one away -- are enough to anchor Africa to Asia. The sand and stone of Sinaitic Egypt stretches to the east and green and brown Nilotic Egypt to the west. Two unsatisfied continents are linked by a single country, two-faced, porous, permeable, which explains the one to the other. Egypt forms the hinge between the two clamouring halves of the world. It is here that Africa's muddled and almost dumb misery meets the clear-sighted, struggling poverty of Asia.

India is more strongly installed at Suez, the black races more enduringly rooted at Aswan, than Europe is in Alexandria. For thirteen hundred years torrid Islam, swarming from Asia, has lived side by side with the gods of earth, water and death that ride the old Nile. A crude streak of brownish-grey mud of almost the same colour as the peasants it supports and feeds, Egypt lies across the long charred crescent that joins Senegal to the Punjab -- not cutting it, but deflecting it a little as thick glass refracts sunlight.

In Cairo the great lay and religious universities, the teeming prisons and the young Trades-Union movement are all silently . . .

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