Saturday, August 17, 2013

Violence in Egypt concerns travelers to this wondrous place

Throughout Egypt, handsome and friendly children greeted American visitors who wonder if they are safe now.

Friendship with brilliant guide, encounters with children, foster worry for their safety

Adept as a guide and translator, Amr took the photographer
and writer through Egypt, proudly sharing his country's wonders.

AS NEWS of bloodshed in Cairo commands our attention this week, we wonder about our friend Amr.
We met this talented, multi-lingual guide and translator last autumn during a memorable and magical trip to his native Egypt and the Middle East.
We spent only a few days with him, but we became fast friends.  He won our affection and admiration with his diplomacy, talent and bravery.
He sheperded us through lanes of daunting traffic -- including buses, cars and donkey carts -- from Alexandria up to Cairo, directing our faithful bus driver and working comfortably with our group of 20-some tourists, a security guard
Cookie and Keller were safe with Amr; here they enjoy Giza's splendors.
who accompanied us on our journey, and many museum, gallery, hotel and restaurant operators.
AMR GUIDED us through mosques, where we carefully removed our shoes, and through ancient sites to view wonders, always offering thoughtful reflections on the contributions of his country's rich culture to the world.
Events of the "Arab Spring" had only recently unfolded and Amr was recovering from injuries in the demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
As we drove past a huge prison a half-mile off the highway, he noted that deposed president Hosni Mubarak was housed in that very jail.
"So what do you think of Mohammed Morsi?" we asked. Although, he was in power, he had not yet been
The marvelous Egyptian Museum has more than 120,000
relics of the pharaohs, and King Tutankhamun's tomb treasures.
elected President.
Amr paused, collected his thoughts and explained that he was not a fan of the now ousted president. "He will be more of the same," he said with fervor.  "We need change, idealism, someone to lead us to our new, free future and fulfillment of our potential."
DURING OUR time with him, chatting in the famed Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Amr expressed his idealism that Egypt become a true democracy, that all Egyptians would be treated as equal with no regard for color, gender, belief.
Amr expressed depression and anxiety as the election loomed. What does he think now?
AMR SPOKE with affection of his wife, "an educated, contemporary woman," as we passed dozens of women in traditional head garb and veils.
Not all Egyptian women wear full body coverings, or burkas.
Amr is among the educated, young idealists involved in the original demonstration near Cairo's Tahrir Square. He is also a father of two youngsters.  He is reluctant to align himself with any group, to subscribe to either the Muslim Brotherhood or the old regime. He deplores violence.
Extremism in any direction, he believes, is not a good option.
Amr professed confusion about what the U.S. wants for Egypt, the "mixed signals" he feels we are sending.
I would hope he would be sympathetic to America now, as we are faulted by all sides as the complex events unfold.
Shopkeepers and vendors struggle in Cairo to make ends meet.
FOR CERTAIN, the recent military crackdown and bloodshed would disturb him.
We wonder what his reaction is to President Obama's pleas for the government to back off. Surely he would commend Obama's condemnation of the murder of civilians.
And he would remind us how difficult life has become for the average common man, trying to earn a living selling fruit juice or peppers.
As Amr chatted with guides and shopkeepers, we saw a true work ethic, a yearning to make life better.
One of many Cairo mosques.
AMR KNOWS transition will take time. He shook his head sadly as he described the decline of "civilized life" in his country.  It could not be denied, with the mounds of garbage and wrecked cars, the crush of people and signs of poverty everywhere. Still, the children smiled, were curious and spoke animated English to us.
Time will tell Egypt's future. Hosni Mubarak was in power more than 30 years, and his philosophies were deeply imbedded. A transition to full democracy may take a decade or more.
The discontent felt by Amr and many of his fellow Egyptians has to be acute -- even those who supported Morsi must be disappointed that he was not able to accomplish altruistic goals.
We wonder if Amr is safe.  He was injured in the first rebellion two years ago.  His goals are shared by thousands of other young, educated Egyptians:
The Nile River: thoroughfare for tourist, commerce and recreational vehicles.
*That Egypt develop a democratic procedure for selecting leaders.
*That citizens' rights under the law be respected and protected.
*That social justice be upheld.
Amr's criticism of the Brotherhood stems from his belief that now ousted President Morsi would not represent a departure from the corruption and repression of his predecessor.
The recent violence is a reminder of the schisms in Egyptian society.  There is great distrust of the Brotherhood.  There are pro-Morsi supporters.  The military.  Police.  Secret service.  There will likely be backlashes after the protests.  Surely Amr and his friends thought the military would help them, turn things around, as they did when Mubarak was ousted.
A whirling dervish entertains, on a Nile dinner cruise with guide Amr.
Now, the hugely powerful military is responsible for hundreds of deaths. Thousands more are wounded.
The instability is bad globally and has a hugely negative effect on tourism in the land of ancient wonders. How sad is the carnage near the great pyramids of Giza, and in the very square where we lunched with Amr.
We all wonder: will there be another election?  Democracy seems to have been crushed.What will become of the Brotherhood and Al Quida, which seem to be enemies? Does this spell an end to the attempt for a free society?  What will the ramifications be in Syria?
Where are the ideological commitments on which democracy is based?
Animated discussion follows an accident on a busy Cairo street.
What effect will the military's actions have to do on the country's embattled economy?
EGYPTIANS were beleaguered when we visited last fall, aware that the country's infrastructure was collapsing.
Now they are mourning, burying their dead.
Please the gods, may our smart, sweet, talented Amr, not be among the casualties.

Flowers abloom in Montana.
We return to Montana for flower power under the Big Sky. The Treasure State is abloom, in one of the lushest floral summers our reporter can recall. And this Saturday, we visit the San Diego
concert venue of Humphreys By the Bay. Humphreys has it all: gorgeous oceanside setting, tremendous talent, wonderful sound and lights, a terrific bar. Already this summer, Humphreys has hosted superstars of every persuasion, from Lyle Lovett, Bill Cosby and Bill Maher, to Willie Nelson, Garrison Keillor, Joan Rivers and Cyndi Lauper.  It's not too late to take in Melissa Etheridge, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Diana Krall and others.
More next week. Explore, learn and live, and check us out on Wednesdays and Saturdays at:

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