High Life

By Taki | The Spectator, February 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

High Life


Taki, The Spectator


Gstaad

In 1940, Leo Amery, speaking in the House of Commons, rebuked Neville Chamberlain and his colleagues with the Oliver Cromwell quote, 'In the name of God, go!' This was after the fall of France with England on the brink. Those asking for Mubarak to go are on the street, not in parliament, which doesn't exist in the way we know it.

Mind you, I was in Damascus back in 1970 when a Hearst correspondent, John Harris, burst into my room and announced Nasser's death from a heart attack. We drove to the airport, got into a prop Electra laid on compliments of the Syrian regime, and landed in Cairo in a jiffy. That's when Harris put on a Groucho Marx mask and walked up to pass - port control, where he was waved through. I thought I was seeing things but what I write is the absolute truth.

Harris had been kicked out of Egypt the previous day so had bought in Damascus a mask of his favourite comedian in case he was ordered back there. As the plane was full of hacks, Harris was told in no uncertain terms that what he was doing was childish and counterproductive. In fact, one terrible bore, whose name I simply don't remember, warned that the bunch of us might be refused entry because of Harris's prank.

'That's how much you know, ' said Harris, once past customs. Nasser was no Mubarak.

He was seen as Godlike by a great majority of Egyptians despite the fact that he had lost two wars against Israel. His sudden death brought on paralysis to the extent that even a man wearing a Groucho Marx mask could be waved through.

Harris and I stayed friends but have now lost touch. We covered the Yom Kip - pur War and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 - in fact, it was Harris who went down to the lobby of the hotel at 6 a. m. in Nicosia and told a couple of sleeping Cyp - riot soldiers that the brown parachutes floating down were Turkish troops; but no one paid much attention to him until the bang-bang started. But back to Egypt.

What we encountered once in central Cairo was a scene out of Dante. There were millions of people running around like crazy, weeping, beating themselves and exhorting everyone to pray and cry for Nasser. Frankly, I was scared because I hate crowds and had seen a couple of lynchings as a boy during the Greek civil war. Harris, always at the centre of things, was almost killed by some Egyptian who had thrown himself off a roof. 'Don't worry, ' he told me when I lamented missing the picture of a lifetime. 'There will be hundreds more.' And there were. I remember thinking how ridiculous it would look were I to be killed by a flying Egyptian. …

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