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On Egypt

February 1, 2011

For those with an interest in the fate of archaeological sites and collections (and field teams!) in Egypt, I have been most impressed with the ongoing reports from Kate Phizackerley at News from the Valley of the Kings, and Andie Byrnes at Egyptology News. They have worked together to set up a site documenting the current state of Egyptian Antiquities in many locations: Egyptological Looting Database 2011 .

I also urge readers to seek out the accounts of ordinary Egyptians; their voices are hard to come by, because of communications issues, but much more valuable, in my opinion, than those of the western media. In western media news, Nick Kristof of the Times arrived in Cairo yesterday, and I look forward to his thoughtful reporting and opinion.

I visited Egypt once, for a week, nearly 20 years ago.  I traveled by myself, on fall break from my junior year abroad program, and while I was as a result sometimes lonely, and sometimes dined on cookies in my lodgings rather than face another meal out alone, I also had some experiences I would not have had as a member of a tour group or traveling with friends.  Most memorably, I spent my  last evening in the country with a young man about my age, whom I met when we were both turned away from a full hostel in Cairo.  He recommended another place to stay, near Midan Tahrir, and when the hotelier noted that I had not yet obtained some important stamp in my passport, he accompanied me to the Mugamma Building and tracked down the right office to acquire this.  We went out to a modern shopping mall, perhaps in Heliopolis, and I saw a very different sort of Egypt from what I’d seen up to that point – not hard-core archaeology and museums, nor the faux-retro expatriate life an acquaintance who was attending the American University in Cairo for a semester had shown me.  My new friend was a Copt, I think from Asyut, and was unhappy with the Egypt he lived in, on both religious grounds and economic ones; he spoke of a brother or cousin who had emigrated to Germany, and was deeply interested in heavy metal music, after the manner of alienated young men around the world.  I think of this young man whenever I think of Egypt; this past week I have been wondering if he is taking part in the demonstrations, and lending his voice to the process of making a new Egypt.

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