Sunday, June 7, 2009

Egyptian Pyramid Theft- Al Jezeera Interview Part I

flying into the pyramids
Mahmoud: Live from Egypt- it's Al Jezeera, and the chief of our Egyptian affiliate, Mahmoud Ahmed Abd-Rabou am pleased to be joined with famed world traveler and Simpsons Scholar, Richard Birecki. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Rich: My pleasure Mahmoud.
M: So, you have been in our country for four days, was that long enough to reach your hotel from the airport?
R: I was fortunate; I made it on day three.
M: Lucky.
R: The traffic in Cairo is awful, and possibly more chaotic than in Mumbai India. You run neck and neck in congestion, but I think that Egypt might take the gold because there is not a single traffic light in the entire country, and the cars jostle for position like it’s the Indy 500 time trials and even though no car has ever exceeded 2.1 miles per hour, but they’re going after pole position come hell or high water, and there are no traffic cops, cause no one has EVER attained a speed fast enough to be worthy of a ticket, even through a school zone, and being an Islamic country, devoutly practice the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, who was otherwise quite tolerant, but one day developed road rage and instructed his driver, “Death before yielding.”
M: Haha, but seriously—
R: If you think I am joking about this, then my friend, you haven’t studied the Koran as I have.
M: You studied the Koran?
R: I was at a local Egyptian restaurant which had a very large plasma screen TV which was playing “The Koran Channel 13.”
M: The Koran Channel 13?
R: Every country in the Middle East has multiple privately funded satellite channels devoted to the Koran which operate 24 hours a day without breaking for commercials with only readings from the book. On Koran Channel #13, it was also translated in English subtitles, and when the Prophet was discussing proper traffic behavior, “Death before yielding” was repeated at least five times.
M: Perhaps this was an incorrect translation?
R: Perhaps you haven’t experienced drivers from the Middle East.
M: What was your favorite part of being in Egypt?
R: Without a doubt, the Giza pyramids. The first time I saw them was at dusk. These massive structures in the middle of the desert built over five thousand years ago and still standing.
M: I understand you saw the laser light show in the evening.
the great pyramids of Giza
R: I think the pyramids are most impressive at sundown, when you can’t see the wear of time and desert, and man made destruction. The laser light show was very cool, a history of the pyramids and the Sphinx built to guard them. Look, I was in absolute awe of the pyramids. I sat there thinking to myself whether or not this was because I had seen them so often in pictures as a child, studied them in school, seen them in movies, etc. I sat there and tried to clear my head of any preconceived notion, and wondered if I’d find the pyramids as cool and impressive, and the answer came back, absolutely.
M: Were you able to explore the pyramids, and their interior?
Egyptian pyramids
R: The next day my guide took me to tour the Pyramids and the Sphinx and warned me that going inside the pyramids was a waste, cause there was nothing to see inside, but I insisted, believing that it was my destiny to discover a secret passageway which would lead me to treasures that I would smuggle out of Egypt and become insanely wealthy by selling them to the British Museum. I entered the pyramid via a long miner’s shaft, having to nearly crawl in, and began looking around for one of those bookcases where you pull out a book and a platform rotates you into a secret room; I majored in archaeology at Scooby Doo University, but sadly found only a room with graffiti dated from the year 1812 with some Frenchman taunting me that he had found the bookcase before me.
M: There was a bookcase?
R: Yes, but no books.
M: Tragic.
R: Indeed.
M: What did you think of the National Museum?
R: Pretty amazing. Well worth seeing. I think what I enjoyed the most was the intricate design of the hieroglyphics. Amazing that they have withstood the test of time, and are so clearly legible, if you can read bird, cat, bird, jackal that is.
M: How about the papyrus?
R: The Egyptians invented paper, made out of papyrus six thousand years ago. Today in the National Museum, scrolls made of papyrus are clearly legible and in full color after five thousand years, while the original American Constitution has nearly withered away after two hundred plus years.
M: Did you buy a papyrus scroll?
R: I did indeed. I even purchased the extended warranty- three thousand years.
M: I hope the warranty didn’t cost you a lot.
R: (a long beat of silence) I plan to cash in on it as soon as they invent time travel.
M: (after a couple beats) What else impressed you about Egypt?
R: Well, we drove from Cairo to Alexandria which is located on the Mediterranean, about three hours Northwest of Cairo and through the Sahara Desert. Alexandria was originally the depository of learning, with the world’s biggest library, until it was burned down, helping to plunge the world into the Dark Ages. Several years ago, the Egyptians rebuilt the library, and digitized millions of records, scrolls, books, and it is an extremely impressive building, beautifully designed, and a monument to history and acknowledgement to Egypt’s role in building civilization. I also visited the Coptic Crypts, which date back to the 2nd Century AD, but were unearthed only sixty years ago. I always dig walking through something straight out of Indiana Jones.
M: And economically, how does Egypt compare to the United States?
R: It doesn’t. Not in the least. The infrastructure is poor, nothing works properly, it’s dirty and polluted. Egypt as a country is what I would refer to as “old money.” Basically they had a really wealthy super great great great great great great great super duper great great grandfather who invested incredibly wisely in the form of pyramids and relics, which are still paying huge dividends in the form of ongoing tourism. Unfortunately, that wealth is being divided by his descendents who have eight children per family, and no real means to sustain them. Almost everyone lives within a few miles of the Nile River, and I really doubt that Egypt has enough arable land to support such a population on its own. The only other thing that Egypt has is oil, which will at some time either run out, or be replaced by renewable green energy. Egypt’s lifeblood is tourism, and a good tour guide makes twenty dollars a day plus tips, but only on days when they work, and when the summer heat comes, the volume of tourists drops significantly. The average government salary is $60 a month.
M: People survive on that?
R: Something like 80% of the population makes less than $250 a month.
M: Did you feel any worries in the streets based on all the poverty?
R: None really. Sure everybody tries to befriend you and sell you some junky souvenirs, but unlike Turkey, I felt safe at all times.
The Mosque I prayed in. The security guard has left his machine gun several feet in front of him just lying there
M: What about all the guns?

R: The NRA would love Egypt. Everywhere you go you see rifles or machine guns. Largely in the hands of the tourist police, it is a little unnerving at first to see AK-47’s strapped around the shoulders of so many people, but you get used to it.
M: The tourist police?
R: As I stated, tourism is Egypt’s bread and butter. Years and years ago, the Muslim brotherhood, in an effort to destabilize the government so they could take over, shot up a bunch of sightseers at the pyramids. Now they have armed guards everywhere to protect tourists, protect their number one industry. You can’t go anywhere; get in any car, cab, without the tourist police taking down the license plate, the driver’s name etc.
M: And the people of Egypt, how did you find them?
R: Basically extremely warm and inviting. Yeah, people in Egypt are very poor, and many of them are looking for any way to sell you something, which, according to my guide, is usually junk, but overall I would say the people are great.
M: Do you believe that we Egyptians have a fascination with death?
R: From the pharaohs on. The pyramids were built as massive tombs for the pharaohs. In Cairo today, they have what they call “City of the Dead,” with it’s minarets, domes, and tombs, it looks like something straight out of Star Wars as you pass it by. Living in the city are the poorest of the poor, ands their sole job it is to look after all the tombs. I actually was curious and asked to be taken inside, and basically it’s a massive grave yard, but no graves, just oddly shaped structures and domes acting as tombs, with very impoverished people milling about them, going on with their lives. It was a little surreal for me. I mean, my guide proudly told me that her sister was excited because she had purchased a very fancy tomb for herself for ten thousand US dollars. They were originally a poor family, and to for Anyone in Egypt 10k is like a several hundred thousand dollars here, so to spend that amount of money for when you are dead, well, it boggles my mind.
M: You spent some time in Islamic countries, tell us your impressions of Islam.

(sound of machetes being unsheathed by audience)

Click here for part II of the interview!! Islam in Egypt- Part II


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