Egypt

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Dahab (Sinai), Egypt, November 1998. A barren land in terms of nature, but highly charged with political conflicts. Désert naturel mais chaos politique.

Our first encounter with Egypt happened in the Sinai peninsula, in a pitch dark night. Cars drove with headlights that their drivers flashed intermittently. Fortunately traffic was very sparse, which did not prevent our bus from very violently bumping into an animal-driven cart whose owner landed in the field after making a loop in the sky. I do not want to think about what happened to the donkey or horse, nor could I actually see. Our driver did not even slow down.

In Sinai we also met three Greek archaeologists excavating high above Saint Catherine’s Orthodox monastery, a Frenchman working in an ice-cream bar on the Greek island of Rhodes who had come for two days to Cairo to see Aida, “Very special with the pyramids as a background, then I said to myself, why not stay two more days and go to the Sinai?”, and the domino-playing, Egyptian captain of the small boat who took us to the African part of the country across the Red Sea and attempted to lead us into a mini-orgy after a round of depressing bars full of pitiful Cairene prostitutes — one of whom had brought along her very astute looking and coquettish, 8-year old girl.

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Cairo, Egypt, November 1998. Sufi dancing in the Madrassa Al-Ghouri. Les soufis exécutent leur dance traditionnelle dans une ancienne école.

Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism, arose in the 7th century as a reaction to the materialism of the Muslim hierarchy, while the madrassa is a fine 16th century monument partly made of materials stolen from other buildings by the thievish and tyrannical Mamluks.

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Giza (Cairo), Egypt, November 1998. The future and the past meet. Visite obligatoire de tout écolier.

These schoolchildren remind us of the abysmal social reality behind the facade of the world famous site. The pharaonic tombs they are visiting here are much older than those of the Mamluks around which some of them are growing up if they are among the poorest half million Cairenes living in the two eastern cemeteries of the mammoth capital.

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New Qurna (Luxor West bank), Egypt, November 1998. Art and commerce mix. A votre santé!

“TV and tractors aren’t the only western imports. Some people feel Egypt is being ‘Coca-Cola-ised’ by the trappings of western life.” Lonely Planet. Western consumerism and 21st century AD symbols on the road to the 3-4,000 year-old Valleys of the Queens and the Kings tombs. Will the former last as long as the latter?Luxor deserves its fame both for its world-class archaeological mega-site and its endless, high-pitch hassling. Inescapable consequences of extreme poverty and extreme wealth having coexisted for millennia — or the other face of human glory. Some Pharaos used to kill the slaves who built their elaborate graves. This did not prevent grave-robbers from finding and looting them, the most famous of whom are none other than English archaeologist Howard Carter and his rich sponsor Lord Carnarvon who stole articles from the tomb of Tutankhamun before announcing their incredible discovery to the world.

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Luxor, Egypt, November 1998. Early morning. Au soleil levant.

Thankfully, some representatives of human society seem to make a living without losing their dignity, like this early morning street sweeper (above) or this peasant (below) carrying palm leaves in the fertile Nile valley under the gaze of the Colossi of Memnon, the last remnants of the mortuary temple built by Amenophis III. A hedonist (his harem numbered over 300!), he was the father-in-law of the beautiful queen Nefertiti as well as the grandfather-in-law of Tutankhamun — or maybe his plain grandfather if Tutankhamun was indeed the child of Amenophis IV with a “minor” wife. More important, Amenophis IV was the first ruler to introduce a monotheistic religion, maybe a source of inspiration for the later Hebrew prophets. Under the Pharaos, the high society’s way of life as well as its higher ideas seemed as remote from the commoners as it does today.

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New Qurna (Luxor West bank), Egypt, November 1998. The fertile plain. Transport millénaire sur une terre millénaire.

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