Friday, November 30, 2007

Egyptian Geographical Society

The National Geographic Society of Egypt The ornate meeting hall within the institution

(From :

Members of the General Geographic Conference, after visiting the Egyptian Museum, pose for a photo at its entrance

The working hours are 9 am till 2 pm.

Holiday on Thursday and Friday.

It actually has a Museum downstairs. It has some very rare collection of past things such as ElMahmal (المحمل), rare rocks, swords of the past as they were used in Egypt, etc.

It was also (at its heyday) a very well known Society in the world in which major lectures took place by major explorers.

  • It is one of the oldest non-governmental institutions in Egypt (founded 1875), second only to L'Institut d'Egypte (founded 1798)
  • It's the 9th geographical society worldwide
  • It's name has changed several times, chronicling the history of modern Egypt in the process: La Societe Khedivial de Geographie (1875-1916), La Societe Sultanieh (1917-1922), La Societe Royale de Geographie d'Egypte (1923-1953), La Societe de Geographie d'Egypte (1953- )

The above information and more can be found on the society's website :

Thanks Nihal for pointing me in this direction.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Self-appointed enforcers of Islamic law spread influence in Egypt - Yahoo! News

Yahoo News!

By Miret el Naggar,
McClatchy Newspapers Thu Nov 29, 6:00 AM ET

CAIRO, Egypt — The self-styled enforcers of religious law issued frequent reprimands to Rasha el Kholy for not wearing a head scarf.

Sometimes her co-workers spoke to her as "concerned friends," and one colleague at the Cairo clothing factory where she worked gave her a CD of a sermon that emphasized the virtues of wearing the veil.

When that failed, the de facto morality squad lectured her on how to stand during prayers, on the need to pray more than the required five times a day and how she should limit her contact with Christian co-workers, Kholy said.

"It bothered me a lot because we were not friends," said Kholy, 36. "You're not doing it for my concern, you're really doing it just because you want to give me these pearls of wisdom that make you in some way a better Muslim than I am."

Self-appointed enforcers of Islamic law are becoming more common in Egypt , a Sunni Muslim nation with a population well above 70 million. Unlike the state-sanctioned morality police of conservative theocracies such as Saudi Arabia and Iran , Egypt's enforcers are ordinary people who take it upon themselves to offer religious "advice," often to strangers.

Unveiled women are the primary targets, but the enforcers also chastise Muslim men for dating, not observing prayer times or allowing their wives or sisters to wear revealing clothes.

Television preachers, Saudi religious literature and religious instruction in mosques all are encouraging practicing Muslims to offer such advice to others, even if unsolicited.

"People I barely knew started walking up to me, saying, 'You have beautiful hair and you're such a decent girl. Complete the perfect picture and get veiled,' " said Salma Nadim , 24, a telecommunications analyst in Cairo .

Egyptian officials have expressed alarm at the conservative Islamist reformation that's spreading across the Middle East and posing a challenge to the secular, authoritarian government of President Hosni Mubarak , one of the United States' closest Arab allies.

While Egyptian security forces regularly round up dozens of Islamist activists from organized movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, they're all but powerless to stop the street preaching that's now an everyday occurrence on the subway, at the airport, in the workplace and at sidewalk cafes.

Government-backed clerics fear that their relatively moderate brand of Islam is being replaced by a more militant version fueled by widespread political discontent at home and fury over what's seen as Western meddling in the Muslim world. To add insult to injury, sheiks who've devoted their lives to studying Islam's intricacies are finding themselves upstaged by religious vigilantes with no formal training.

"Preaching has its professionals who know religion and understand how to do their job," said Sheik Omar el Deeb, a senior cleric at Al Azhar, a venerable Cairo religious institute that's struggling to remain a touchstone for the Islamic world. "But for someone to appoint himself as a preacher, on public transportation or on the streets, and then order people to follow religion, could make people shun religion."

Several other Muslim countries are locked in internal struggles over the role of morality squads in public life. The difference is that enforcers in the other countries have full state support.

This year, Shiite Muslim Iran launched one of the widest crackdowns in nearly two decades, allowing paramilitaries and police to harass or detain hundreds of women for wearing snug clothing or not wearing the proper head scarves. Men were accosted if they sported long hair, sleeveless shirts or tattoos.

In the Palestinian territories, members of the militant Sunni group Hamas , which won parliamentary elections last January, banned certain musical instruments they deemed counter to Islam, while the rival Fatah party's newly appointed morality police arrested dozens of people for smoking or drinking during the Ramadan holy month of fasting.

Then there's Saudi Arabia , where seemingly everyone has a story of an unpleasant encounter with the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the Muttawa. The commission's members troll the kingdom's ubiquitous Starbucks cafes in search of unmarried couples on dates or for women who aren't clad in the mandatory black robe called an abaya.

In September, two Saudi women made headlines for pepper-spraying and beating up a morality officer in an attack they filmed with their cell phones. The women were hailed as heroes on several Saudi blogs and listservs.

Not all Egyptians oppose their country's emerging volunteer morality police. Many welcome their work as legitimate outreach, or da'awa, a cornerstone of Islam. Yet even supporters concede that the message can get lost in an overzealous delivery.

"A big part of my reaction depends on the attitude in which the message is delivered," said Ahmed Zahran , 22, a university student. "If they're trying to deliver a message in a good manner, without shaming you, then it doesn't make you turn them away."

Critics, on the other hand, regard the vigilantes' efforts as intrusive, offensive and hypocritical.

Mohamed Abdel Wahab , 21, a senior at an Egyptian fine arts university, said he was standing with a female friend one recent day when a stranger approached them and called their behavior "impious." The stranger invited Abdel Wahab to join him in prayer. Not wanting to cause a scene, the student politely answered that he'd think about it. Abdel Wahab never went; he considers the enforcers' focus on beards and veils to be superficial.

"You would never see one of them picking up garbage from the streets and throwing it in a garbage can, for instance," he said.

Kholy, who was the target of constant harassment at the clothing factory, left her job this year for unrelated reasons. But her bitterness lingers, and it's made her more defiant in her belief that no one has the right to question her relationship with God.

"At first, I thought they were really concerned about me, but then I realized that their advice didn't go deeper into spiritual issues or even toward building a stronger relationship between us. It was only about, 'Get veiled, get veiled, get veiled!' " she said.

In her view, the religious vigilantes are competing to show their piety. "Nowadays, everyone is holding a notebook, counting their merits and turning it into a race. If I convince you to get veiled, I'll get two pages of stars and smileys."

(Naggar is a special correspondent for McClatchy .)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nomads in No-Man’s Land - Egypt Today Article

Kim Piper

November 2007
Nomads in No-Man’s Land
Rulers have come and gone, but none have won the trust of the the Eastern Desert’s tribes. Now that the Beja tribes are grudgingly considering settlements, is this the end of the “Fuzzy-Wuzzy” way of life?
By Cache Seel

MY FIRST TRIP to the Eastern Desert was to visit a gold mine. I wasn’t the only visitor there — a group of geologists, miners and industry experts were inspecting the site as well. During our time together, I learned that these men had spent most of their lives in Egypt’s furthest corners. The average age of the group was well over 60, and there were literally hundreds of years of experience assembled in the desert. Naturally, the conversation centered on the uniqueness of —and the oddities in — Egypt’s hinterlands.

“Have you ever seen the Fuzzy-wuzzies?” one of them asked.

People don’t really say things like that anymore, do they?

I must have looked as shocked as I felt, because the man started laughing. “No, no, that’s what they’re called.” Then he described the tribesmen of the Eastern Desert: the hairstyle which earned them their nickname, their unique language and the amalgam of religious beliefs they had accumulated over time.

“But it’s very hard to get down to see them now,” he warned.

He was right, particularly when you consider the area he was describing includes the disputed border with Sudan. Besides being as far from Cairo as you can get and still be in Egypt, government permits are required for travel.

Kim Piper
The Hamedab prepare jabana, a ginger-flavored coffee, for their visitors in a ceremony that draws in everyone in the camp.

Shortly after, while working on a different story about the Bedouin of the Sinai, a project director for the World Food Program (WFP) mentioned that he had recently been working with nomads in the Eastern Desert.

“Have you ever heard of the Besharin, I think they’re called?” I asked, paused for a second then added. “The Fuzzy-wuzzies?”

He had: In fact, it was the tribe he was working with. He was also more than happy to help arrange a trip. Nearly a year and a half of red tape and scheduling problems later, I finally began my journey to find the group of nomads Egypt seems to have forgotten all about.

The Beja

The Ababda and the Besharin belong to the Beja tribes, which roam the deserts from Egypt to Eritrea. Accounts of their lives and customs date back to the ancient Greeks, and although many of the earliest accounts are littered with myths presented as fact, there is still enough truth in them that the people being described are recognizable as the same tribes documented by later, less imaginative travelers.

Kim Piper
Some fear that as the Bedouin move into settlements, children will abandon their tribes’ traditions and culture.

More than a millennium after Pliny the Elder and Herodotus described the “Gebadei” and the “Blemmyes” — complete with drawings depicting them as having their faces in the middle of their chests — another wave of travelers journeyed to the lands of the Beja.

The “lost book” of Ibn Selim Al-Aswani, written in 971 AD, assigns the Gebadei and the Beja the same lands as the ancient Greeks. The “G” prefix is common in the Beja languages: A Besharin man in Shalatin called the Beja language Gebejawi, and the Gebadei are almost certainly the Ababda.

The European explorers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries relied heavily on ancient texts to guide them through the Eastern Desert. The stories they brought back show a land where little had changed from the earliest accounts. The weapons, the houses, the language and even the spiritual beliefs would have been instantly recognized by Pliny.

Today, the tribes’ long continuity may be coming to an end, victims of the consequences of modernity. Lake Nasser, completed in 1964, took six years to fill to capacity. By 1970, an estimated 90,000 people were displaced and more than 5,000 square kilometers of land were submerged. The only permanent grazing areas for the Besharin and the Ababda were left underwater.

The remainder of their lands are suffering through a decades-long drought. The herds that any nomadic people need to sustain their lifestyles are disappearing.

Kim Piper
A ‘fearsome’ Fuzzy-wuzzy: A Besharin girl in Shalatin shows off the hairstyle that gave the tribe its nickname.
On the Road

Standing overwatch on the long drive down the Red Sea coast is the Citadel of Quseir, now a museum dedicated to the history of the area. In the northern tower is a display of the daily lives of the Bedouin tribes, specifically the Ababda and the Besharin. It’s a small exhibit, limited by space, but it shows a traditional house and items used in the tribes’ everyday lives. A map is also on display showing the range of the nomads, which remains identical to the areas identified by classical geographers.

Hundreds of kilometers farther south we turn off the main road and head into the mountains. The asphalt gives way to gravel, which in turn gives way to a seemingly trackless expanse. Finally, we come across a small camp in a valley called Gambeet.

The only difference between Gambeet and the museum in Quseir is the fact that people live in the latter. Past a small enclosure housing a few goats sits a low shelter. Only a small child would be able to stand upright beneath the burlap and miscellaneous pieces of cloth that are supported by the wooden frame. Along the frame hang water skins and other items identical to the museum ‘relics.’

It’s a living museum. The older women have square, flat, gold rings hung off the front of their noses and decorative scarring on their cheeks. Some of the younger women have plaits and gold rings woven into their hair.

Kim Piper
A small spring, marked by a Roman-era temple, is the only source of water for the Ababda in this part of the valley known as locally as “Abrak.”

Khaled Chatila is the program manager for the WFP. He introduces us to Taha, the only man present in Gambeet. The others, he says, are out collecting wood to turn into charcoal.

“One of the main income sources is now charcoaling,” Chatila explains. “They forage the desert for wood and turn it into charcoal to sell. Herding is [dying out] because of the drought.”

This drought, which has affected the Eastern Desert for more than 30 years, is what brought Chatila here. Some environmentalists have blamed micro-climatic changes resulting from the Aswan High Dam; others have tied it to the greater trend of global warming. While the cause is disputed, the effects are clear.

Camels are the traditional measure of wealth for the Bedouin, and throughout their history the Ababda and the Besharin were considered to be very wealthy tribes. Travelers’ accounts always include a description of the herds, and later travelers came specifically for the camels, sometimes described as the best in the world.

“Before, we had large herds,” Taha says. “But now we have only maybe five or six goats per family. There are still some camels, but only three in Gambeet.”

Kim Piper
An Ababda woman weaves a blanket at Shalatin’s community center, as part of a project to help the Bedouin learn marketable skills.

The men out collecting wood for charcoal have the camels, he tells us. Once they have collected a full load, they will take it to Shalatin to the market, a four-day journey by camel from Gambeet.

Chatila asks Taha if he has seen the settlements set up by the WFP and the government. “We are all the same; there are good things in both,” he replies. “The houses are okay, but so are the tents.”

“Don’t you want a house?” Chatila asks.

“I have a house,” Taha says. “This is my house, he says, pointing around the tent. I prefer this life. I don’t want a house made of wood. I might join the project if I saw something concrete. I’m waiting to see the results.”

The women aren’t any more enthusiastic about the settlement programs than Taha is.

Kim Piper
Traditional beauty techniques: The Ababda women at Gambeet use charcoal on their faces and plait their hair with a gold ring, beads.

Fatima is the oldest woman in Gambeet. “I like Gambeet. I’m not going to move from here,” she says. “But if one day Gambeet becomes like Abu Safa, no harm. We’re happy with what we have now.” A widow, Fatima explains that she is dependent on her relatives for support. Her son lives with her, but he is away at the school the government set up in Abu Safa, as are all of the children in Gambeet.

Asked about the need for educating future nomads, Taha finally admits, “People are aware of something changing, and they’re looking for something easier. Even if this means that we lose some of the old habits and customs, it doesn’t really matter. Surviving is becoming much harder. Especially the young,” he says, “They know that they have to change.”

Chatila has worked on numerous Bedouin settlement programs across Egypt, but he has never encountered the problems that the Ababda and the Besharin present. “One of the problems we were facing early on is that many of them did not speak Arabic,” Chatila explains. “Most of them speak Rotana, which is the local language of the place.”

They are also difficult to register because they simply will not tell you more than their first names. For the nomads, Chatila explains, their full names betray their family, as well as their tribal allegiances and histories. Two absolute strangers could find themselves obligated to settle a centuries-old blood feud simply by introducing themselves.

Abu Safa

Retired Army General Ahmed Al-Mullah has spent a good deal of time in the Eastern Desert, first with the army and now with the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation. Five years ago, the ministry began with a simple program growing fodder to save the herds.

Realizing much more needed to be done, the ministry enlisted the help of the WFP, inked an agreement in 2003 and began work the next year. They chose the area around Abu Safa for two reasons: The situation of the local population was dire, and the presence of groundwater made it possible to do something about it.

“The biggest problem we faced early on was gaining the people’s trust,” Al-Mullah says. “When we started the program and explained what we wanted to do, the reaction was, ‘Why, what do you want from us?’ It’s been a long process.”

And the process isn’t over yet. Driving farther into the desert from Gambeet, you eventually come across the Abu Safa valley. Ten feddans of small green rows hedged in by a wall of young cactus appear out of the endless sea of brown.

The Ababda are divided into three lineages: the Hamedab, the Ashebab, and the Melaikab, each headed by a hereditary sheikh. This area belongs to the Hamedab.

Kim Piper
The home of Taha, his wives and children at the Abrak settlement in a valley near Shalatin.

“If anyone is going to do anything here, he is told about it and people need his permission,” Al-Mullah says as he introduces Sheikh Hamedab. Sheikh Hamedab is an old man with cataracts, who gets around slowly using a walking stick. His authority has not diminished with his health.

“He has absolute authority,” Al-Mullah explains. “When he told people to settle in Abu Safa, they moved.” This authority has been both a blessing and a curse for the project. After a successful harvest, the government and the WFP would like to expand the settlements, but Sheikh Hamedab isn’t sure yet. “He still isn’t sure about drip irrigation,” Al-Mullah tells us. “He only knows flood irrigation, so he needs to see more before he okays more houses.”

The crops are only one part of the program. To reach the people with basic government services such as medical care and education, they need to be settled. But if houses are built without the Sheikh’s approval, no one will come, and if he tells them to leave, they will.

The man who is perhaps doing the most to convince Sheikh Hamedab of the value of drip irrigation is Mohandis Hussein. For the last two years he’s been implementing the technical side of the agriculture program while working on his PhD in agricultural techniques and desert reclamation. He’s training local men, but says it could take a full seven years before they’re self reliant.

“It will take a long time before the program can walk away,” he says simply. Still, he doesn’t regret leaving his home in Cairo’s Mataria neighborhood for the spartan desert life. “We’re doing it for the children and for the future; we’re teaching them another world.”

Kim Piper

Not far from the fields is the ancient route that connects the Nile Valley and the Red Sea. A Ptolemaic temple is carved into a cliff face, marking the location of a spring. Across the narrow valley is a fledgling olive grove. Al-Mullah points to this as an example of the evolution of the project.

“When we started here five years ago it was just fodder to save the livestock. Then we started to plant for people and the settlements began. Now we are working on marketable produce,” explains Al-Mullah, who believes that the change in attitude is largely due to the success of the settlements.

The nearby settlement is a ring of wooden houses on tall concrete foundations, surrounding a school, a mosque and a community center. The community center was part of a joint program with the United Nations Development Program and the WFP, Chatila says. “The joint program identified the 10 ten poorest villages in all of Egypt,” he explains. “Abu Safa was selected, and so this center was built.”

The facility is a multipurpose training center, with sewing courses for the women, adult literacy programs, and basic awareness advice on topics such as hygiene. The center also serves as a meeting area for the villagers and is a clinic for the government doctor who visits once a month.

“It was a coordinated effort,” Chatila says. “We provided the building, and the government donated the sewing machines and monitors for the classes.”

There is also a television. Al-Mullah sees this as an important tool for teaching the nomads that there is another world out there; Chatila is not as convinced.

“There’s always the danger in this type of aid work that you are destroying a culture,” he says. “But what are we supposed to do? They were starving out there in the desert, and we can’t pretend for them that there isn’t another world out there. They’re not children.”

The school is a simple, one-room building. The teacher has come from Qena since none of the locals are qualified. An imam from Shalatin visits periodically for the same reason.

Leaving the settlement is not an easy task. The people insist that we sit with them and drink a thick, sweet coffee flavored with ginger called jabana. Drinking jabana is a ritual in which the guest watches the entire process of making the coffee. While we’re waiting, men emerge from behind the community center with round bull hide shields and “Crusader style swords” that perfectly fit the descriptions offered by Ibn Selim Al-Aswani more than 1,000 years ago.

Two armed men face each other as another picks up a flat drum and begins beating out a rhythm and chanting. The men dance in circles around each other, stabbing the sky with their swords. As the music ends, the dancers lay down their swords and back away from each other with their hands held high as if to show that it was all in fun. Two more men rush in to pick up the weapons, and the dance begins again almost immediately. The women of the settlement sit off to the side ululating as dance continues. Everyone joins in, the youngest dancer couldn’t have been all of 10 years old and the oldest don’t look as if they will be able to finish the dance.

Leaving Abu Safa, Chatila says the rituals make him feel vindicated in a way. “I know that their lives are changing and that we are a part of that,” he says. “But when they wanted to celebrate and greet guests, this is what they chose to do. To me that says that at least a part of their culture is going to remain intact.”


Shalatin is a sprawl more than a city. The concrete buildings which line the main street give way to a random collection of shacks built from scavenged material. It doesn’t look it at first, but Shalatin is an important trading hub. It is the last Egyptian city before the disputed border area with Sudan, with a market that has more goods than you can find anywhere outside of Cairo. Raw materials make their way from Africa through Sudan, and manufactured goods both imported and made in Egypt stop here on their way south. The camel market in Shalatin is the largest in Egypt, by some estimates the largest in Africa.

Rahman is Besharin and has lived in Shalatin for years now. His children were born here and their lives bear no resemblance to their father’s childhood.

“When I was young, we used to take our camels to Aswan and Komombo to pick up wheat flour. We used to take caravans down into Sudan. There was much more water than now, but water was always a problem. Now there is no water. It used to rain and there was good grazing,” he says resignedly. “We worked as herders, camels, cows everything. But now with the drought, no one has camels anymore. Now we are mostly working in the camel market and some are working as fishermen.”

Chatila explains that in the camel market the men hire themselves out as laborers and are lucky to make LE 30 a week. The settlement program in the Eastern Desert is based on an earlier collaboration between the government and the WFP in Sinai. There, participants in the program contribute 15 percent of the local market value of their food aid into an account. The government then matches their deposits at a nearly 10:1 ratio. The impoverishment of the Ababda and the Besharin has been so severe that this common fund is provided entirely by the government.

“Everything is different now,” says Rahman. Rotana is his first language and his Arabic is accented. “The young generation is speaking it less and it’s becoming mixed with Arabic.” After a while he admits that his children, born and raised in Shalatin, barely speak basic Rotana.

“Most of our culture is still preserved, but a lot of it is a little different,” he responds when asked if he was worried that the Beshari culture is dying. Leaving Shalatin for the desert is no longer an option. Besides, he says, “Now it is better. The Egyptians are giving us schools and electricity for free and a monthly stipend.”

Rahman still refers to the Egyptians as a people other than himself. He is Beshari, not Egyptian. It’s very likely that he will be the last generation of his family to think so.

The Shalatin community center is a microcosm of the surrounding area. In the “slums” of Shalatin, as Chatila calls them, tribes and family lines are strictly segregated. Inside the center the Ababda, the Besharin and locals gather for training and socialization. Today, they’re learning weaving techniques.

Hawa is Hamedab Ababda and visibly so. She has the hole in the front of her nose where her wedding ring went, and her bright colors and bare arms seem immodest compared to the townspeople. She is teaching around 30 assembled women weaving techniques. The idea is to create a marketable product which will be sold in a consignment store in Marsa Alam. She greets the visitors with a long stream of Rotana.

“What is she saying?” Chatila asks the woman next to him.

“She is praising God and praising the project,” the woman replies.

Then, switching to Arabic, Hawa says, “Before this project we just stayed in our homes and now we are learning things.”

Al-Mullah says this instruction is part of one of the project’s main goals to empower the women of the area. “This is changing the whole attitude here,” he maintains. “Now they know if you work, you can get money, not just food.”

An effort is underway with the Ministry of Social Affairs to create a micro-loan program for the women in the project, but one of the biggest stumbling blocks so far has been that the women simply didn’t have marketable skills.

Desert Dwellers

Few, if any, outsiders know even half as much about the Ababda and the Besharin as Shahira Fawzy. And few if any people are as critical of the agricultural programs as she is.

In 1970, Fawzy was a recent AUC graduate, planning her wedding which would take place after a short study of water pollution around the very recently filled Lake Nasser. A chance encounter with a small group of Beshari women turned what had been up to that point a very conventional life upside down. The women eventually led her back into the desert to a small camp. Hard times had fallen on this group of Besharin.

“They kept telling me that they were waiting for the deluge to dry,” she says. The tribesmen believed that a massive rain had come down and flooded their grazing land; they were simply waiting out the flood waters. All of her efforts to convince them that the land was gone forever failed.

“I was young,” Fawzy recalls. “They told me that a huge torrential rain like this happens about every 20 years.” After a pause she adds, “How could a people like this even imagine something like the Aswan Dam?”

Back in Aswan, authorities were as incredulous as the Besharin had been. They refused to believe that a group of people they had never heard of were living out in the desert and insisted that she had run across a passing caravan.

Fawzy returned to Cairo, ended her engagement, walked away from her very comfortable life and spent the next 15 years living with the tribes. While being critical of the aid programs, Fawzy admits that early on she was doing some of the same things. She began by helping dig wells and introducing small vegetable gardens. Not everything she tried worked out well.

“Yes, I know I made some mistakes,” she says. “One time I gave some of the men some sandals. When the sandals finally wore out they went back to being barefoot, their feet had grown tender, and they could hardly even walk.

“I taught some of the men, the ones who were traders, some Arabic,” she tells us. For doing this, she received the same criticism that she is now giving, namely that she was changing the tribesmen’s lives irrevocably. “What was I supposed to do?” she asks. “They were trading a goat for a sack of flour. They needed to be able to communicate.”

They also wanted to know more about their religion. Sometime around the thirteenth century, the Ababda and the Besharin converted to Islam. “When I first met them, their idea of praying was to draw a crescent in the sand, say ‘B’ism Allah, Allahu Akbar,’ and then go on with their day. That was their prayers.”

Fawzy describes herself as “not very religious,” and enlisted the help of a driver to teach the tribes people the basics of Islam. The lessons have had a limited effect, she says.

“They do believe in Islam,” Fawzy begins. “But they also believe in Hobakoka, their grandparent who turned into stone. Ptolemy gave them a statue of Isis in ancient times. And they believed that it was their grandmother who turned into stone. In the days when I was there, it was their grandfather. I assume this is the intervention of Islam where lineages are more paternal. They talk of their dead parent as a man.”

Nearby Gabal Elba is where they believe Hobakoka is now, she says. “According to ancient accounts the Pharaoh would give them the statue every year for two months and they would slaughter and [hold] their festivities. Now no one knows where this statue is. The nomads claim that it is inside Elba Mountain. It is very possible they’re right, that it was taken there and hidden during one war or another.”

Fawzy herself has climbed the mountain several times but has found nothing there.

She doesn’t feel that anything she did in her time with the tribes altered their lives much at all. The gardening programs she implemented were small plots fed by shallow wells which could be abandoned and returned to as the nomads followed their annual migrations. The WFP and government programs are aimed at creating a sedentary lifestyle. Worse yet, in her opinion, they are temporary programs. The WFP limits these types of projects to five years.

“You are just creating a dependence in this region,” Fawzy says. “If you are trying to help someone, you either come to stay or stay away.” They don’t understand the culture they are dealing with either. A photograph of a program manager handing out cans of fish proves this, she insists.

“Fish is not part of the desert diet at all, not this desert, not other deserts. One of the worst insults they have is to call someone ‘samaka’.”

Moreover, she questions the need for the agricultural programs. “These people have lived for thousands of years with droughts,” Fawzy says. The drought is bad now, and the herds are dwindling, but this is by design, according to Fawzy. The Ababda and the Besharin practice a form of birth control on their herds. A stone and string are used to make the female camels infertile, when the drought passes, the device is removed and the herds are allowed to grow again.

“In whose interest is it? What will they gain by switching people who have their own income into beggars? That’s what you do when you change nomads into farmers,” Fawzy argues.

As for the question of whether or not their culture will survive, Fawzy is confident that it will. “More important than the tribes or the families, there are three different types of Bedouin in this area,” she says. “The first is the mountain people who haven’t changed at all.” She estimates that there are as many as 20,000 mountain people who continue their lives with little to no contact with the outside world.

“Then there are also ‘Al-Nass Al-Asfalt.’ These are the groups who can see the tar roads,” she continues. “Those are the people of Shalatin and the other towns. These are the people who are joining the settlement programs.”

“The last group is the ‘Fahab Al-Menakh,’ the owners of the Menakh. Menakh is the place where the camel sits,” Shahira explains. “These are the traders who interact with the tribesmen as well as the outside world. The Menakh is where they trade for goods they can’t get elsewhere.”

Her description sounds remarkably like Herodotus’ distinctions of the Blemmyes, the Ichthyophagi, and the Troglodytes in 450 BC. But as the drought continues and more of the nomads settle, it’s hard not to wonder whether the Beja tribes’ long, uninterrupted march through history may be coming to an end.

A History of the “Fuzzy-Wuzzies”

In 1883, Mohamed Ahmed, a Sudanese religious fanatic known as the Mahdi, raised an army to expel the British and Egyptian forces that ruled his country. The Beja tribes that span both countries were split, with many of the southern tribes including the Ababda and the Hadendoa supporting the Mahdist cause, while members of northern tribes like the Besharin served with Egyptian forces.

At the Battle of Tamai in March of 1884, a group of Beja tribesmen succeeded in doing what no other non-European army had ever done: They broke open the British infantry square. The outnumbered tribesmen eventually lost the battle, but they won immortality through Rudyard Kipling’s poem recording the feat.

The name Fuzzy-wuzzy was used by British colonial soldiers as an obvious reference to the tribesmen’s unique hairstyles, and it is supposed to make a terrifying enemy seem a little less so.

The Mahdist uprising was the last major military action of the Ababda and the Besharin, but it was by no means the first. Nor was their martial success anything new. Pharaohs, Roman Emperors and nineteenth-century khedives have all tried to subdue the tribes: All finally decided it was easier to buy their loyalty than force it.

The earliest known reference to the Ababda and the Besharin is by Herodotus in 450 BC. The account describes the nomads as a wild race, only part human, who were constantly at war with ancient Egypt. Most of the gold mines which produced the Pharaoh’s incredible wealth were located deep in the tribes’ territories, as was the route to the Red Sea from ancient Thebes and Aswan. The Pharaohs, who documented their achievements prolifically, never claimed to have conquered the tribes. That, along with mountains of evidence of ancient activities in the region, leads to the assumption of some type of negotiated settlement.

By the time of the medieval Arab travelers, the rulers of the Nile Valley had once again lost their influence in the Eastern Desert. Caravans either paid tribute or traveled with armies.

Throughout their history, the tribes seem to be continually forgotten and rediscovered by the rest of the world. Linant de Bellefonds was a Frenchman who explored the region in the 1830s at the request of Mohamed Ali Pasha. Bellefonds was sent to map the area and search for the ancient gold and emerald mines. His trip produced little as far as the mineral wealth he had been sent to search for, possibly because he became fascinated with and spent much of his time documenting the Besharin.

The Besharin at that time were raiding villages around Shendi, and the map that Bellefonds produced was used by the Pasha’s army to establish control in the area. The campaign produced few results, and the army turned its attention to securing the Nile Valley and the Red Sea coast, effectively abandoning the ‘useless’ desert to the nomads.

Ababda and Besharin sheikhs remained nominal vassals of the khedives, but unlike other vassals they paid no tribute. They were in fact given a portion of the road tax to safeguard Hajj pilgrims from Bedouin robbers. The only Bedouin in the area, robbers or otherwise, were the Ababda and the Besharin themselves.

After the revolution which overthrew the monarchy, the Ababda and the Besharin once again faded from the public consciousness. As they reemerge, Egypt is once again discovering that they have little control over them. It is not without a degree of frustration that government project managers explain that all of their efforts need the approval of tribal sheikhs.

An interesting side note to the relationship between the Bedouin and the government is the experience of anthropologist Shahira Fawzy. While she was working with the tribes, her offices in Aswan were raided and effectively destroyed. Hundreds of soldiers in full riot gear were filmed storming the office. The reason, according to Shahira, was rumors claiming that she was raising an army of Besharin and Ababda tribesmen.

She wasn’t, of course, but the entire scene proves that even today, Fuzzy-wuzzy still has the power to strike fear into the hearts of others. et

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Caution !!!!! The juice guy at the Khan

If you are thirsty after trekking the khan and looking for a juice, then the juice guy next to Egyptian pancakes at the Khan is MOST DEFINITELY NOT THE PLACE YOU WANT TO GO !

They are Bl&**$ scamsters !

I have always grabbed a juice there (over 20 times in the last year) with my Egyptian friends and it has never cost me more than 3LE.

I had recommended to my visiting aunts (2 weeks back) that they drink juice at his place if they felt thirsty in the area. I told them it would be about 5LE. (including the doubling of price for a tourist) The guy charged them 10LE for each lemon juice !

I thought it was some kind of mix up and ignored it.

When I went to the khan with my uncles last week, we ate at Egyptian pancakes & got the juice from the guy next door. He came back to me with a bill of 60LE for 5 lemon juice. 12 LE each ! (4 times the actual price !!!!!) He refused to see reason, even when I told him that he was charging us 4 times the price ! (To put it in perspective, a canned aerated drink in the market costs a maximum of 2.5LE, at Fishawy it costs about 5LE and at the 5star Oberoi managed Naguib Mahfouz Cafe in the same area its 10LE+tax. Most 5stars - Hilton/Sheraton/Mariott charge within 15LE for a juice inclusive of taxes)

Since the scamster doesn't have a menu, there's no way you can verify the price. 2.5$ for a lime juice on the road is too much for any tourist (even if he/she is the supposed rich American)

Fix your price with the juice guy before ordering or don't order at all. I am definitely NEVER EVER going to drink a juice there again !

PS : The pancakes guy has a menu, so there's no trouble there.

Egypt’s desert art in danger

From Khaleej Times

22 November 2007

CAIRO - A rising tide of travellers seeking out the new frontier of Egyptian tourism is threatening priceless rock art preserved for millennia in one of the most-isolated reaches of the Sahara.

Desert artIn Egypt’s southwest corner, straddling the borders of Sudan and Libya, the elegant paintings of prehistoric man and beast in the mountains of Gilf Kabir and Jebel Ouenat are as stunning in their simplicity as anything by Picasso.

But lying 500 kilometres (330 miles) from the nearest habitation, the desert offers little sanctuary for these masterpieces and any effective protected designation first requires a deal between the three sometimes quarrelsome nations.

Not only the rock art is at stake, but the region’s entire cultural and natural heritage.

“You can’t estimate the amount of damage done,” says Dr Rudolph Kuper, a German archaeologist involved in trying to protect the art, mostly dating from when the desert was a receding prairie 5,000-7,000 years ago.

“People put water or oil on the paintings to make the faded colours look brighter, causing irreparable damage,” he says.

The story is even more tragic just across the border in Libya, where the delicate brush strokes of human figures at Ain Dua appear to have been shot at by bored soldiers.

Nearby, a painted cave is filled with rubbish while outside a giant portrait of Bob Marley shimmers garishly in the white of the desert.

Paying up to 10,000 dollars for a two-week expedition, travelers drive through the desert to reach Gilf Kabir, site of the Cave of the Swimmers made famous by the 1996 film “The English Patient.”

While only a handful came here in the 1980s, the numbers have been rising steadily through the 1990s as some of the millions of tourists visiting Egypt seek out something more exotic than the sandy beach of a Red Sea resort.

“By 2006 there were probably 800 people coming and this year we expect more than 1,000,” says Kuper.

Rock art specialist Tilman Lenssen-Erz says that in prehistoric times the sites would have been known for thousands of square kilometres (miles).

Religious power

Desert art“This was a place so highly charged with symbolism and with the world views that were fixed there in the rock art that it would have been like a huge cathedral in a European context,” says Lenssen-Erz.

“People from far away would know about the significance of the religious power that is collected in this place “ where the supernatural powers of the world were fixed on rocks making the whole area a sacred landscape.”

Even more recent artefacts like the world’s westernmost example of ancient hieroglyphics known as Meri’s rock, to the northeast of Gilf Kabir, have not gone unscathed by the passage of modern man.

The hieroglyphs are evidence that, contrary to the idea that pharaonic trade with sub-Saharan Africa only went via the Nile Valley, the ancients had a major trading route cutting straight through the desert.

Last year, someone embellished the ancient writings with a giant engraving of a topless woman.

“You can’t put barbed wire around it so we developed the idea of mental fences,” Kuper says of the importance of educating guides and tourists alike.

Saad Ali, a young tour operator based in the oasis of Farafra who also runs the Farafra Development Institution NGO, also realised that the only long-term solution was through education.

“We always arranged trips to clean up the desert and every year we found more rubbish so we found the solution is to train the guides,” he says.

“Now it’s changed a lot. Last year we went to clean up and we collected only 4.5 tonnes of rubbish while the year before it was 11 tonnes.”

His next target is tour operators working out of Cairo, still largely unaware of the damage they wreak.

Kuper says that such programmes help to manage “70-80 percent of people” but that others — tourists still living with a colonial mentality and Cairo-based expats who take away artefacts in their 4x4s — are difficult to control.

With untold damage already wrought, getting Egypt, Libya and Sudan to agree on policing the militarily sensitive area is a conservation conundrum.

The hope is to have the area designated as a trans-boundary cultural landscape UNESCO World Heritage site, but that requires the three nations to all first declare individual national parks.

So far, only Egypt has designated a park, but officials from all three countries are due to meet in Cairo in December in the hope of hammering out a deal, despite their occasionally fraught diplomatic relations.

With the support of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Kuper and Prof Mustafa Fouda from the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency want to build a museum-cum-educational centre in the oasis of Dakhla, the jumping off point for most trips to Gilf Kabir.

“Hopefully we can make our dreams come true, with a museum to explain the relationship between man and the desert, to explain how man can make use of the resources in a sustainable way,” says Fouda.

Pending the politicians’ decision, Kuper says that recently some tourists have returned to the Cave of the Swimmers to try to erase their names. For the desert’s desecraters, it seems the writing is on the wall.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Axis of Evil

Attended the less than Standing room performance of Axis of Evil at the El Sawy Centre today evening.

It was absolutely hilarious. My throat is parched, my stomach and facial muscles all ache. But its all worth it.

There were hordes of people waiting outside on The Sakkiah lawns by the time we arrived, but there were even larger hordes who had managed to get into the River Hall and secure (gasp!) seating space!

The Show consists of three comedians:

Ahmed Ahmed: Originally from Helwan, Cairo. Immigrated to the United States with his parents while he was one month old. Seen in some Hollywood movies and some TV Shows.

Aron Kader: Or Haroun. He's from a Palestenian father and Mormon mother, who really encouraged him to work as a comedian.

Maz Jobrani: Originally from Iran. Been featured in many Hollywood movies, such as The Interpreter.

Today was a 2 hour rollicking fun time. The crowd was a mix of locals & expats. Students and parents. Every demographic that you might imagine was present and every one of them found something to laugh about.

My favourite was Maz. Maybe his inspiration by marriage to an Indian wife and Persian/Asian roots made me identify more closely with his perspective. I'm still grinning at the : Persian Cat .... "Meeeeeow" : with the rubbing of the head action.

They are conducting auditions tomorrow for stand up comics at the El Sawy from 10am onwards in Arabic & English. Winner gets some kinda deal with Showtime Arabia. . . In case you are interested, just show up.

PS: will post pics once I'm through with the downloading.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fire @ City Stars Mall on Nov 18th

Fire breaks out in Cairo shopping mall 2007-11-19 01:04:04 Print

CAIRO, Nov. 18 (Xinhua) -- A fire broke out Sunday afternoon at a shopping mall in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, an official of the fire fighting department confirmed.
The fire at the City Stars shopping mall in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City occurred at about local time 3:30 p.m. (1330 GMT) Sunday, the official said on condition of anonymity, adding no casualties have been reported up to now.
According to an earlier report by the official MENA news agency, the fire started on the 5th floor which accommodates the food court and cinema theatres.
The fire is still ablaze and dozens of fire engines are trying to put out the fire.
Witnesses said eight ambulances are outside the building and the fire only caused material damage.
The reason of the fire is still unknown, said the official, without providing further details about the accident.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thanksgiving Meal Supplies

Its that time of the year again & lots of newcomers to Egypt are trying to find the ingredients for a nostalgic home style Thanksgiving meal.

Turkey and Cranberry Sauce. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Pumpkin pie with cool whip. Sparkling cider and those little sweet gherkin pickles. Green bean casserole with those little fried onions on top. (Thanks Ruthie for getting me salivating with this concise menu)

Friends at various parties and at multiple forums are discussing where to get the best turkeys / cranberries or even a complete pre-prepared thanksgiving meal.

The following information has been collated from multiple sources.

Turkeys :
H said she saw frozen turkeys at Carrefour for about 10LE/kg. Last year she paid about LE 400 for a frozen turkey at Alfa Market. She also recommends that - if you are going to get a frozen one, buy it a few days early so you can defrost it in the fridge. The day before T-Day put it in a big bucket filled with brine and let it soak for 24 hours.

Turkeys have also been spotted at HyperOne, Spinneys and Metro mostly throughout the winter months.

S informed me about 2 lesser known options. EXPRESS is a factory that sells frozen American turkeys. During Ramadan a 14kg frozen turkey cost about 280 LE. At Express you can buy turkey breast, legs, drumsticks and frozen whole. This factory is in 10th of Ramadan city. Also in Giza somewhere near Faisal street, is the American turkey farm. She has never been there, but has heard you can buy fresh turkeys there as well.

Jean recommends making stuffing separate from the turkey. More crusty edges to it, and less cooking time for the bird.

Cranberry sauce
A recommends making it at home with Cranberry juice and some kind of gelatinous substance to get the texture right. (halal gelatin is available in Cairo in clear sheets which look like hard candy)

The jelly type of cranberry sauce is available in some of the major supermarkets but they may not have whole berries in them.

Someone mentioned that Spinney's has whole berry cranberry sauce (canned)

Pumpkin :
Canned varieties available in some of the major supermarkets

Fresh pumpkin is available everywhere.

Pie Crusts
Available in some of the major supermarkets but may not be the same quality you are used to back home. Better to make it from scratch. :)

If you would like a fully pre-cooked Thanksgiving meal, check out some of the restaurants.

The CSA is trying to organise take away boxes of Thanksgiving meals. When I last checked (4 days ago) they had not yet finalised on a supplier so no details yet.

The Deli in Maadi is offering Fresh Turkey, Carved Roasted turkey with Fried rice & mixed nuts, Canadian style Roasted Turkey and Leg of Ham. (Call Samir on 010 231 7611 or 02 2520 2117)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Dollars no good for the Taj Mahal

This article from the BBC is more about the falling dollar rate than Egypt.

But it touches on a lot of tourism related problems that India is facing that are similar to those I come across in Egypt. So I thought that this would be an interesting article to post here.

Dollars no good for the Taj Mahal
By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Delhi

Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is visited by millions of tourists every year
Foreign tourists to many of India's most famous landmarks will no longer be able to pay the entrance fee in dollars, the government says.

The ruling is aimed at safeguarding tourism revenues following the recent falls in the dollar.

Until now, foreign tourists to sites such at the Taj Mahal have had the option of paying in dollars or rupees.

The ruling will affect nearly 120 sites of interest run by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Of these, at least 27 are World Heritage sites, including the Taj Mahal.

'International practices'

The ruling is due to be implemented next week. Entrance fees to the sites in question will be either 250 rupees ($6.35) or 100 rupees ($2.54).

"These rates have been fixed in line with international practices, and in order to take care of the fluctuation in the dollar rates," a spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism told the BBC.

Officials say the ministry wanted to act fast so that the revenues are not hit.

Indians only pay 20 or 10 rupees to enter ASI sites, a difference often questioned by foreign tourists.

But officials say there is nothing wrong with this because most Indians earn far less than the foreign visitors.

"The uniform rate applied by most foreign countries are often too high for most Indians anyway," the tourism ministry official told the BBC .

However, the Indian government has also decided that nationals from the regional South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation will not have to pay the higher rate.

Nor will people holding a government-issued People of Indian Origin (PIO) card.

India earned more than $6.5bn in foreign exchange from more than four million foreign tourists to the country last year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"The Long Road to Everest."

This is an article written by Omar Samra - The First Egyptian to climb Mount Everest - that was published in the AUC Today journal.

I would like to say that I always dreamed of climbing Everest, that even as a toddler I had photos of Everest and legendary climbers plastered on the sides of my cot. The truth is a little different. I grew up in Cairo, Egypt. Although a beautiful place full of charming people and countless natural and historic treasures, it is not a very mountainous land. Luckily, it is also not a very cold land. In fact, outside of your kitchen freezer, the chances of encountering ice are rather remote. Some folks say it snowed here at sea level some 200 years ago. Perhaps this is true and recorded in some dusty journal somewhere, but to me and to several generations before me, this seems like a most unusual occurrence. So how and why does an Egyptian decide to climb Everest? Is he merely mad or perhaps there is a string of unlikely events that have led to this. Let me tell you a little story.

How It All Began

As a child I wasn’t particularly sportive. I remember my parents, not very sporty themselves, taking me to the occasional tennis practice. Having me born in Wimbledon, England at around the time the tournament was being played, they were convinced that the cosmos had aligned itself to tell them that I was going to blossom into the Egyptian version of Ivan Lendl. Sadly, I had a terrible backhand and was never much of a tennis player. The truth is, despite how much I liked watching the sport, I did not enjoy playing.

By the time I turned 11, I had developed asthma. I would wake up in the middle of the night breathless. Eventually, my alarmed parents took me to a doctor, and he said that it was harmless and would gradually go away as I got to my mid-20s. I had not learned to be patient at the time, and so when the doctor hinted that if I started running the asthma would go away faster, I quickly made running a big part of my life. When I think back to this period, it always reminds me of the movie Forrest Gump; I started running, continued running and in many ways I have never stopped until today. The asthma disappeared within one or two months. I took up squash for several years, and then during one summer I grew several inches taller so I began playing basketball, which I did competitively for many years.

I remember Everest always amazed me, but I had never given climbing a second thought.

At age 16, I was given the opportunity to climb a mountain in Switzerland during my holiday at a summer camp there. Up until that point, I had only climbed a hill or two in Egypt. That trip to the Alps wasn’t only the first time I saw snow, but also the first time I walked in it. It was a short two-day trip climbing a 2,000-something meter mountain, but it kindled something inside me. I realized how much I loved mountains, and my fitness allowed me to climb well. I still remember getting to the top of the mountain first and finding a logbook under some rocks with many entries of people who had reached the summit. I flipped through it quickly to find that I was the only Egyptian. I felt proud making that entry. I wrote my name and drew our flag, along with pictures of some pyramids. When I got back home, I researched Everest and remember being blown away by the magnitude of the preparation and commitment needed to attempt to climb such a mountain. It was a dream that would take years to fulfill. It was a daunting prospect, but I held the vision all the same.

Years later, in 2000, at the age of 21, having recently graduated from AUC with a bachelor’s in economics, I left Cairo to pursue my dream of working and building a successful career for myself abroad. Initially, everything went as planned. I landed a comfortable job in a prominent investment bank, did very well there and had an ever-blossoming social life. One sunny London afternoon, I met a friend for lunch. We met occasionally to talk about our current lives and future ambitions. We would often fantasize about how we would travel the world one day and explore its many cultures and landscapes.

However, on this particular day, we spoke about something a little more specific. He proceeded to tell me about a cycling trip he had done alone from Nice, France to Naples, Italy. The idea, albeit so alien to me at the time, excited me in many ways. Surely enough, four months later, I was alone on a plane to Sevilla, Spain with a bicycle and a map of Andalusia. The two weeks I spent touring the region were physically grueling, but evoked many feelings and thoughts that had been waiting to surface. I realized how passionate I was about traveling, exploration and pushing my own personal limits and comfort zones, and I began thinking deeply about many things I had previously taken for granted.

My Yearlong Tour
I enjoyed that trip to Spain so much that for two years I spent all my holidays backpacking in China, Morocco and Thailand. Quickly, it dawned on me that I was merely scratching the surface and I began planning for a longer, more involved trip. I’d love to say that the curiosity of embarking on such an adventure more than outweighed the confines of my daily life and social pressures, but the truth is that taking the decision to leave everything behind and embracing uncertainty never came easily.

At that time, I had been living and working in Hong Kong as part of a six-month secondment from London and was getting paid well. I was in a city full of character, surrounded by friends and beautiful women. An exotic weekend getaway to Thailand’s white sandy beaches or a captivating Chinese town was a couple of hours’ flight away or less. Life had a certain comfort to it that was akin to my days back home in Cairo. I began to feel that life was too predictable. I could tell with reasonable certainty what I would be doing in the next three or four years and that scared me. There was so much more to see and do. The choice became clear. I would remove myself from those all too familiar comfort zones and re-educate myself by way of immersing myself in an endeavor that would engage and challenge my every sense. I was not alien to the experience. More than once I had, at my own choice, uprooted myself from my familiar surroundings to cities where I knew no one and had to start almost from scratch. Yet, this would be a different experience altogether. A trip that lasted a whole year with the ambition of experiencing a considerable part of the world’s villages, towns, cities, diverse landscape and people meant that I wouldn’t be able to stay in one place for too long.

A lone traveler, I would follow my heart, wandering through the far reaches of this world in search of happiness and myself. It wouldn’t be easy, but then again, I would have it no other way.

My one-year journey began in December 2002 when I left my work at the bank. In my view, the trip can be divided into three distinct chapters. The first, in Asia, took me from mystic temples of a forgotten Burma to the towering Himalayan Mountains of Nepal, from the Shaolin monasteries of central China, traversing north, through the Mongolian Gobi desert and Siberian wastelands to a more sensible European Russia. Second, in Central America, I switched from wanderer to worker, immersing myself in a voluntary marine conservation project in Costa Rica and a community project in Nicaragua. I then resumed traveling in those two countries, traversing jungles, scaling volcanoes and exploring the awe-inspiring Mayan temples in Honduras and Guatemala. Last, in South America, my trail took me from the upper echelons of the Peruvian Andean range to the lost cities of the Inca. Four-kilometer-high lakes of the Altiplano gave way to the tremendous salt flats and the blistering geysers of Uyuni. The driest place on our planet earth, the Atacama desert of Northern Chile, marked the beginning of a trail down the longest coastline in the world toward the astonishing glaciated lands of Patagonia. I remember nearing Antarctica and standing as the most southern point on the face of the continent on Chile’s Isla Navarino before finally making my way to charming Buenos Aires and happy Brazil.

This trip was not only a fantastic learning experience, but it also allowed me to climb more mountains in a year than I could have ever climbed in five had I been working. I went from climbing fairly straightforward snowy peaks to intense long-pitch, near-vertical ice routes. Over the next two years, I continued to nurture my climbing habit. Everest seemed to get closer, yet it still remained a surreal goal.

Planning for Everest

In late 2005, I began my MBA at the London Business School. Before beginning my studies, I went on a one-month trip to Peru for the sole purpose of getting climbing out of my system and focusing on studying.

I came back from the trip having successfully scaled the hardest mountains I had ever attempted but looking forward to keeping my promise. Little did I know that one and a half months later, I would receive an e-mail from a colleague saying that he wanted to put a team together to climb Mount Everest and was gauging appetite around school. The truth is that as soon as I finished reading his e-mail, my heart jumped, and my decision was made. There was no way I could spend the next two years watching a team prepare for Everest and be a spectator. Everest came to me sooner than I thought and at a time when I least expected, but I also believe that we need to seize opportunities when they present themselves, so I did just that.

At first, there were 40 interested members, but after one month of planning and a climbing trip in the Scottish winter, that number quickly fell to four. These four became the Everest core team, and we remained together until the very end. We spent close to two years preparing, training six times a week, two to three hours a day. Together, we attempted the sixth highest mountain in the world and climbed various technical peaks in the United Kingdom and the French and Swiss Alps. These practice climbs could not simulate all the hardships and challenges of Everest, but they allowed us to experience working together as a team under severe conditions and to understand where our strengths and weaknesses lay.

The Climb
Finally, the expedition began on March 25, 2007. It took us two weeks to get to base camp at an altitude of 5,340 meters with our support team of yaks and Sherpas who helped us carry the supplies we needed for the entire expedition. Tents, food, climbing gear and equipment were just a few of the many things required for our long journey. Reaching base camp marked the end of the trekking phase of the trip and the beginning of the climb. This is what I had been dreaming of for 12 years. I felt privileged to have been given the opportunity to make an attempt on the world’s highest mountain as the first Egyptian and honored to be climbing the very same route as some of the world’s climbing legends. History was made here, and with any luck I would be writing my own chapter in the weeks to come. Success would not come easy, I knew that much. I still had a mentally and physically grueling seven to eight weeks ahead of me in one of the most challenging and dangerous places on earth. Over that period of time, we made countless journeys up and down the mountain, setting up camps progressively higher so our bodies could adjust to the altitude by producing extra oxygen-carrying red blood cells. We still needed to keep making the journeys down as well so that our bodies could rest and recover in relatively oxygen-rich altitudes. This process continued until we reached camp three between 7,200 and 7,400 meters, after which we returned again to base camp and waited for the right weather window to make our final summit push. Above 7,500 meters is an area known among mountaineers as the death zone because beyond that altitude, the human body cannot adjust and slowly begins to shut down. It was imperative that we spend as little time as possible in those upper reaches.

By the time we reached camp three, which marked the end of our acclimatization process, we had made multiple trips up and down the mountain. In fact, by the end of the expedition we had crossed the Khumbu Icefall, the section between base camp and camp one, about eight times. The Khumbu Icefall was the first climbing challenge we faced. It is perhaps the most dangerous part of the mountain as more people –– around 30 –– have died there than anywhere else. It is a maze of near vertical ice cliffs, overhanging seracs and large crevasses. The ice shifts by a couple of millimeters a day, which in geological terms makes it one of the most unstable parts of our planet. The threat of avalanches and large one-ton chunks of ice falling is not uncommon. We always began our journey through the icefall at dawn when the ice is most stable, and we tried to navigate the most dangerous sections as fast as we could. Crossing the icefall allowed us to establish camp one at 6,100 meters.

Between camp one and camp two is an area known as the Western Cwm. This is a gently rising glacial valley, marked by huge lateral crevasses in the center, which prevent direct access to the upper reaches of the Western Cwm. Climbers are forced to cross on the far right near the base of Nuptse to a small passageway known as the Nuptse Corner. Temperatures can drop to as low as -40 degrees Celsius and rise to near +50 degrees Celsius when there is no cloud shield. After all, we were about seven kilometers closer to the sun, and all the surrounding snow and ice-covered mountains acted as gigantic mirrors reflecting the sun’s rays from every possible direction. This causes climbers to get extremely dehydrated and considerably weakens them. Thus, we needed to periodically adapt what we wore to survive this huge variation in temperature.

Camp two is situated at the far end of the Western Cwm below the west shoulder of Everest at roughly 6,500 meters. From that point, we progressed toward camp three by ascending the Lhotse Face. Lhotse is the fifth highest mountain in the world, and we climbed a considerable part of its face before traversing back onto Everest. The Lhotse Face is one of the most technical parts of the climb as its steepness varies between 50 and 80 degrees. One of the most difficult and emotional parts of the climb for me was on this section of the mountain at around 6,800 meters. Our team came across the body of a dead man who had begun climbing just one hour ahead of us. There was a lot of ice and snow debris around him, so we gathered he must have been killed in an avalanche. I thought of giving up, and it was a difficult decision for all of us whether to continue up or go back that day. I had been preparing for years for all kinds of dangers, and I knew that there are always deaths on Everest, but it is different when you see it face to face. In the end, we all made the decision to resume climbing that same day, but not before the situation had tested all our resolve and made us think of turning back and ending the expedition altogether.

After spending a night at camp three, we descended back to camp one and then to base camp the day after that. We even descended lower in the valley to Pangboche village at 4,000 meters for rest and waited for a good summit weather window before going back up again. By comparing various weather models, we were inclined to believe that the period between May 16 and 18 would present a good summit opportunity, and so we began making our way from base camp five days prior to that. We progressively climbed all the way back to camp three and started using bottled oxygen from that point onwards.

From camp three to camp four, we continued to negotiate the upper reaches of the Lhotse Face and came against two additional challenges known as the Geneva Spur and the Yellow Band. The Geneva Spur is an anvil-shaped rib of black rock. Fixed ropes assist climbers in scrambling over this snow-covered rock band. The Yellow Band is a section of sedimentary sandstone, which also requires about 100 meters of rope for traversing it. Once we crossed the Yellow Band, we would be back on Everest and only a few hours climb away from camp four, also known as the South Col. It is at the South Col that we spent a few hours trying to melt snow for water and get some rest before trying for the summit. However, the extreme altitude of 7,950 meters and the resulting lack of oxygen at roughly 7 percent does not allow the climber any sleep or appetite to eat. It was a painful few hours to nightfall before we continued our climb and the final push to the summit. We climbed in the dark so that we could get to the top in the light and also descend before nightfall. From here, clear weather and low winds are critical factors in deciding whether to make a final summit attempt. Even here if weather does not cooperate, we could be forced to descend, sometimes all the way down to base camp, which can be very disheartening.

Finally, we began our summit push on May 16 at 10:45 pm, reaching first the steep Balcony at 8,500 meters, which is a precariously small platform overlooking the Tibetan Plateau. From there, we continued up a ridge toward the South Summit. This is perhaps the most exposed section of the climb, as a misstep to the left or right would send one 2,400 meters down the southwest face, while to the immediate right is the 3,050-meter Kangshung Face. Just before reaching the South Summit, we had to negotiate a series of imposing rock steps. We would negotiate one and feel like we had achieved our goal only to find that there was still further to go. In a world where one had to fight for every breath, it was mentally crushing.

When I reached the South Summit, I felt for the first time that I could really make it to the top. From there, I followed the final knife-edge summit ridge and climbed the Hillary Step, a nearly vertical 10-meter rock face, before walking the final steps to the top of the world. I remember walking those final steps and thinking to myself, “I did it.” It was very surreal. When I got to the top, it was a clear day with the closest cloud a few thousand meters below us. I could see the curvature of the Earth, and I felt that I could see the whole planet before my eyes. I can’t really tell you what I felt at the top; it was a mixture of very deep and strong emotions. I sat on the summit to catch my breath and took the Egyptian flag out of my rucksack and held it close to me for a while before taking any photos. It was a very special feeling. I spoke to my mother and brother via satellite phone. As soon as I heard their voices, I began crying and my words came out intermittently and with great difficulty. It was a very emotional moment. I was on the summit for 40 to 50 minutes before we started to think of our return journey, which, albeit shorter, was in many ways more dangerous.

The Art of Dreaming

Everest for me is more than just a mountain. It is my very personal dream that was achieved through years of hard work and perseverance. Everyone in this world has their own Everest to climb, and if we want to achieve these lofty goals and leave our mark in the world, then we need to learn to master the art of dreaming. That involves as much pondering and gazing into the sky as it is understanding that the road will almost always be hard and long.

The best way I found to tackle a goal like Everest is never to focus on the summit itself; if you do that, just like any colossal task, it will mentally crush you. Over the years and especially on the mountain itself, I found it useful to break down the goal into smaller, more achievable parts. Accomplish the smaller goals along the way and rejoice in each and every one. It is really the journey and what we learn along the way that truly matters.

If I had one wish for all of us, it would be that we always listen and follow our hearts in everything we do. That way, we always pick the right dreams; those are our own dreams and never someone else’s. So happy dreaming, and I wish us all exciting and rewarding journeys.
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