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Egypt: Proud country with rich history

CAIRO, Egypt – He was standing there majestically, as he hasdone these so many years. He stared out at me just as he had donesome 33 years before when we first met.

“Greetings my old friend,” I said. “It has been quite some time,you are looking well.”

King Tutankhamen just stared back through his solid goldheaddress, garnished with exotic jewels.

Our first meeting was in New Orleans in 1977.

I was a journalism student with a special photography pass thatgave me unfettered access. He was making his first excursion to theUnited States.

Mine was a rare opportunity to photograph and write about thereclusive Egyptian king. His an opportunity to introduce hishomeland to the rest of the world with New Orleans as the host.

The occasion of this second meeting recently was an invitationfrom the American Egyptian Cooperation Foundation (AECF) to be partof a four-member delegation of newspaper publishers representingthe National Newspaper Association on a study mission with Egyptiangovernment officials.

Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts due to plane problems thatresulted in a 24-hour flight delay out of New York, compounded byalready tight schedules because of the upcoming Egyptian elections,several of our meetings had to be canceled.

The Egyptian boy king graciously adjusted his schedule andgranted us an audience, one of many experiences over six days of aculture that began more than 6,000 years ago.

We found a fascinating country, one of much pride but with manyfrustrations that mimic our own social and political ones here athome – a stagnant economy with a high unemployment rate,educational and health care issues, but theirs are much deeper andharder to fix.

When one’s roots date back to the earliest days of civilization,pride runs deep – as it should – but we had to chuckle as ourguide, a very well-educated Egyptian woman with deep socialistbeliefs and completely enamored with our American president, wasquick to criticize our political system, while justifying thefailures of her own. While better than most of its peers, Egypt isa third-world country with third-world problems but with a strongdetermination to improve its standing, and thus our invitation tocome to Egypt.

A very proud people, they could not have been more friendly.Many a time someone would come up to me an ask, “American?”followed by a thumbs up and a broad smile.

But I would not be honest if I did not reference the tightsecurity that is everywhere. Concerned about the safety of theirvital tourism industry, the Egyptian government keeps lawenforcement very visible, thus their crime rate is low.

Egypt is a strong and important ally of the United States and isa key component in this country’s Middle East agenda.

Politically at play right now is the future of EgyptianPresident Hosni Mubarak.

While he announced his intentions to seek re-election while wewere there, at age 82 his tenure is limited and thus some uncertainand unsettling times in Egypt. Our guide is hoping for a newstronger, socialist agenda that will solve the social failures sheblames on the policies of the past while her boss pins his hopes oncontinuation of the Mubarak agenda.

Politics aside, Egypt is an intriguing place with the contrastof a bleak desert and lush green areas of incredible beauty. It hasthe wonderfully romantic charm of the river Nile and the history ofthe pyramids along with its ancient civilization that each daystill provides new clues to modern archeologists of its historicpast.

And one cannot visit Egypt without visiting its most visuallandmark – the Pyramids of Giza.

Despite what one has seen or read about these amazingstructures, until one stands at their base, one cannot appreciatewhat was accomplished nor comprehend the precision needed to buildthese majestic structures some 2,500 years before Christ – and thusthe source of the pride we found in the Egyptians we met. Our guidewas quick to remind us that civilization began here on the banks ofthe river Nile.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602,or send e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.