In Welcoming Prince Charles, Egypt’s Leader Sends a Message

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GIZA, Egypt – The royal visit was carefully planned. Egyptian authorities closed roads, cleared debris and expelled camel drivers, hawkers and tourists seeking to showcase the pyramids to Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. But no one took into account the stray dog.

Defiantly dark, he wagged his tail across the road just as the royal black BMW approached the Great Pyramid. Violent gunfire ensued. The dog drove off, the people in the suits exhaled. Their Royal Highnesses posed, smiled and went on the tour, Charles holding Camilla’s hand to keep her on the rocks.

The Thursday afternoon tour was the royal family’s first visit to Egypt since 2006 and their first trip outside the UK since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a trip that royal family observers found even more appealing given the fragile health of Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth II, who had ceded travel duties her son

But the Egypt that Charles saw was not the Egypt that he saw 15 years ago, and, for that matter, the Egypt that the previous Prince of Wales had. visited a camel in 1889seven years after Britain conquered Egypt and began its sixty years of occupation

Despite the stray dog, this Egypt is nobody’s colony.

The royals’ next stop after the pyramids on Thursday talked a lot about where Egypt, under the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, sees its move: elegant new restaurant overlooking the pyramids, which is one of the jewels of the government’s quest to grace its stellar landmark, where tumbling debris and overly impatient advertisers tend to blur its grandeur.

In fact, Mr. El Sisi has planned redevelopment for virtually all of Egypt. In his quest to modernize the Arab world’s most populous country, he is building a vast new capital, building new roads and bridges across central Cairo, destroying poor informal neighborhoods, and even eliminating the tuk-tuk, three-wheeled taxis used by many of the poor. country.

After years political unrest and violence After the 2011 revolution in Egypt, Mr. al-Sisi, a former general who came to power after the military coup that toppled the president-elect in 2013, also changed the country’s position as regional heavyweight: Venue for the next United Nations Climate Summit, a growing competitor in the gas industry, a business destination for European energy and defense giants, and valuable partner for the USA on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

“For Egypt, this visit marks the next important step as the regime continues to rebuild its image,” he said. Hafsa Halava, Egyptian-Iraqi-British Research Fellow at the Institute for the Middle East. The visit, she said, “confirms the regime’s growing self-confidence.”

All this despite the ever-growing suppression and the human rights violations that have shaped the rule of Mr. Al-Sisi. The day before the arrival of Charles and Camilla the Egyptian court sentenced three prominent opposition figures for extended prison terms.

In two countries with such difficult histories – Britain ruled Egypt as a colony until the 1950s, hiring peasants, brutally suppressing opposition, and controlling Egypt’s finances – the rise of the royal family caused little tensions. (The main objections on the Egyptian side came from supporters of Princess Diana, who greeted the visit with displeasure over Charles’ treatment of his ex-wife.)

Remnants of British rule remain in Cairo from the club of former British officers where upper class Egyptians can still play croquet, central square named after Liberation of Egypt… But Britons in Egypt are more likely to hear Egyptians fire over Manchester United and Mohamed Salah. Egyptian football star playing for Liverpoolthan to complain about long-term British control over the Suez Canal. Some Egyptians even praise the British for building trains and other infrastructure, even though they were originally built to serve British economic interests.

Relations are now good and Egypt welcomes significant British investment and trade. Charles’ long-term work in climate protection turned the visit into a kind of handover of responsibilities to host the global climate conference, which took place in Glasgow this year and will come to egypt next year. The couple traveled to Alexandria on Friday before returning to the UK.

In respect of Charles’ interest in religious diversity, the royal family moved from meeting Mr al-Sisi on Thursday at Al-Azhar, the most influential center for Muslim education in Sunni Islam.

Then it came to the pyramids, where the government brought in one of Egypt’s largest conglomerates to build new restaurants and a new visitor center, create a sound and light show, and transport tourists on a new electric bus system.

Stood nearby Great Egyptian Museum, which is scheduled to open at the pyramids next year after years of delay as one of the largest museums in the world. Its gray, angular volume could hardly have contrasted more with the dusty pink neoclassicism of the 119-year-old Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo, which it aims to replace.

Every week, a little more treasures from the old museum are brought to the new one. Some watch with sadness the devastation of the building with its noble, ragged charm. But it’s hard to deny the symbolic appeal of transferring the legacy of the pharaohs of Egypt from an institution invented by Europeans – a building named after some of the pan-European Egyptologists who transported many of Egypt’s most significant artifacts back to Europe – and back to Europe. Egyptian Museum.

Europe’s continued possession of some of Egypt’s most famous antiquities, including the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, is just one problematic point in Egypt’s harrowing relationship with the West.

Egyptian society, or at least its upper echelons, turned westward, at least since Khedive Ismail, then ruler of Egypt, remodeled downtown Cairo with Parisian-style boulevards and European-style facades in the 1860s. Wealthy Egyptians today buy homes in gated communities with names such as Beverly Hills; they make sure their children learn English, even at the expense of classical Arabic, at private international schools with names such as Malvern College.

“When you say barra — abroad” in Egyptian Arabic — you automatically mean a better place, ”wrote Youssef Rakha, an Egyptian writer, in the 2020 essay Barra and Zaman.

Mr al-Sisi also craves Western approval, as evidenced by his attempts to meet face to face with President Biden. But his government is also lashing out in the West to rally Egyptians around its regime, accusing dissent of foreign interference, harassing rights groups in politically motivated charges obtaining foreign funding and counter attack on Western criticism of human rights in Egypt.

An insult to the West may now be nothing more than a nationalist slap on the chest, but it is rooted in a bitter struggle against the British occupation.

To suppress opposition, it was the British who pioneered many of the repressive tactics that succeeded Egyptian authoritarian regimes later applied to their citizens.

“The irony is that many of the methods and institutions that the Egyptian state used to arrest, torture, and sometimes kill its alleged enemies were used and designed to maintain de facto British colonial rule,” he said. Aaron Jakes, professor of history at the New School, who wrote The Occupation of Egypt: Colonial Economism and the Crises of Capitalism.

The British occupiers considered the Egyptians to be backward, unable to govern themselves. Mr. al-Sisi, too, seems to think little of the Egyptians, whom he often warns. lose weight and stop having so many children.

Maybe that’s why the authorities spent hours before Charles and Camille arrived at the pyramids, driving away most of the Egyptians.

The road, freshly cleared of coffee carts and fried sweet potato vendors, was filled with cops and fluttering union jacks. This time there were no camels in the pyramids. Only the stray dogs remained.

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