Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Man in stripes

Everybody agrees, I'm sure, that this gentleman looks great in stripes… particularly when we notice that the stripes are in fact composed of repetitions of his name: Hosni Mubarak.

Other men, in other places, at other times, have worn stripes.

One might imagine that everybody ends up wearing the stripes he deserves… but I don't necessarily agree with that simple way of looking at things. It all depends upon circumstances, and the forces for change. As we all know, neither tigers nor zebras can change their stripes… but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Mubarak's stripes were soon to be changed by force. For the moment, though, nobody can be quite sure of what these various Mediterranean dictators will be wearing next.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Stubborn mummies

Normally, a self-respecting mummy is expected to migrate promptly to the afterlife, particularly when it has ample on-board supplies and more than enough ready cash to buy a coffee or a beer along the way.

Last night on French TV, I witnessed the presence of two distinguished mummies—one in Egypt, as is normal, and the other here in France—who seem to be somewhat stubborn about leaving the scene and allowing another pharaoh to rule over their old territory and people. The first mummy, of course, was Hosni Mubarak, who used his entire farewell oration to inform us that he ain't goin' nowhere in the near future. Earlier on in the day, I had heard snippets of information about the massive wealth that this fellow has amassed and stored away for his family and himself in various corners of the planet. Frankly, whichever way I look at the Egyptian situation, I reckon that this Hosni guy is living dangerously, and I would be most surprised if he ever has a chance of spending his ill-gotten gains in various nice vacation spots around the globe. Maybe, to mention an obvious idea for a voyage, he might end up floating quietly down the Nile… but it's not sure that the circumstances of such a trip would correspond to Hosni's hopes.

Closer to home, our local mummy is Nicolas Sarkozy… but he won't actually be wrapped up and set on his voyage to the afterlife until next year. For the moment, he's in a kind of zombie state, shocked by the massive backlash of citizens the majority of whom appear to consider that the president hasn't delivered the goods he promised, and that his time is up. Yesterday evening, he organized a fake talk show in which he replied to questions from a carefully-selected panel of citizens. I only watched this show for a few minutes, as I thought it would be particularly boring. I'm told it was. Although the cotton wrappings are on the wall, Sarko carries on stubbornly pretending that he's still in the land of the living. Pharaoh enough… presidents never like to go out with a whimper.

BREAKING NEWS: Less than an hour ago, the Egyptian mummy has finally realized (mummies don't think rapidly) that his people would like him to fuck off… and that's what he's doing. Needless to say, the fatigued crowds are erupting in joy.

Meanwhile, here in France, nothing of a similar nature appears to be happening in the case of Sarkophagus.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Joint statement on Egypt from three European leaders

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister David Cameron have issued a joint statement on the situation in Egypt:

We are deeply concerned about the events that we are witnessing in Egypt. We recognize the moderating role President Mubarak has played over many years in the Middle East. We now urge him to show the same moderation in addressing the current situation in Egypt.

We call on President Mubarak to avoid at all costs the use of violence against unarmed civilians, and on the demonstrators to exercise their rights peacefully.

It is essential that the further political, economic and social reforms President Mubarak has promised are implemented fully and quickly and meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
There must be full respect for human rights and democratic freedoms, including freedom of expression and communication, including use of telephones and the internet, and the right of peaceful assembly.

The Egyptian people have legitimate grievances and a longing for a just and better future. We urge President Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation which should be reflected in a broad-based government and in free and fair elections.

Meanwhile, ten minutes ago, a tweet from Al Jazeera producer Evan Hill informed us that their service has just been shut down in Egypt. This is disappointing news, because they've been doing a fine job.

In France, we nevertheless have a terse but excellent real-time blog from Le Monde.

Its messages are accompanied by an intriguing short sound intended to represent the noise of a ticker-tape machine.

BREAKING NEWS [Sunday morning 10.30 France]: Contrary to Evan Hill's tweet, Al Jazeera is still getting through to us.

[Sunday 14.07 France]: No, the end of Al Jazeera live coverage from Cairo has been confirmed by their on-the-spot journalist Evan Hill in an audio message. They've packed up their stuff and moved to a secret location.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A revolution is taking place in Egypt

NOTE: The following blog post extends in real time over a period of 4 hours. When I started to jot down my impressions, I didn't intend that this should be the case, but events in Egypt just kept on evolving.

At the present moment, it's 3 o'clock in the afternoon in France, and I'm watching (on my computer screen) an amazing Al Jazeera English-language live stream. The following screen shot shows protesters throwing rocks at an armored vehicle and forcing it to retreat.

[Click the image to link to the Al Jazeera live stream]

Video sequences shot in real time show blood dripping onto the macadam from wounded protesters, while others faint from the effects of tear gas and have to be carried away by comrades. The words of Al Jazeera journalists are solemn, almost calm, but dramatic and profound. We are watching historic images. Whatever happens by the end of the day, Egypt will never be the same again. In the vicinity of the 6th October Bridge in central Cairo, there is absolute chaos.

A journalist said: Some revolutions are leaderless. This one is being fueled by pure people power. The momentum is now with the protesters. The revolution certainly appears to be taking place…

In Suez, armored vehicles seem to be veering madly through the crowds. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera has brought in live comments from Tunisians, who are terribly proud to see that their revolution is being imported into the neighboring nation.

The Al Jazeera news coverage is being carried out in a marvelously professional and informative style. Since early this morning, we've been hearing that the Egyptian authorities have blocked the Internet. An amazing aspect of the present coverage is the fact that the live streaming from Al Jazeera nevertheless gets through perfectly, enabling us to see it by means of a web browser. It's as if dictators can no longer succeed in blocking the flow of information by means of their antiquated tricks. I find this observation terribly reassuring.

BREAKING NEWS: We've just been watching amazing images of rioters ceasing their actions for brief evening prayers. At the same time, the police stopped firing their tear gas. In 20 minutes, it will be 6 o'clock at Cairo, and an official curfew has been set. Will it be respected by the protesters? That is the big question...

Here's a Cairo image at 5 minutes away from curfew:

State police entered the building 10 minutes ago, but the cameras are still functioning. Meanwhile, Egyptian state media have just announced that Mubarak has ordered the army onto the streets, to help imposing the curfew.

The curfew started a minute ago, and the rioters are still on the streets. Rioters have set fire to a big truck on the 6th October Bridge that carries either police or troops, and they're trying to rock it over so that it falls into the Nile. A rioter is on top of the vehicle, dancing. It's totally surrealistic!

Al Jazeera is doing a fabulous job. Normally, Mubarak plans to speak to the nation in a short time. What will he announce?

We've just seen videos from Alexandria. Meanwhile, the troop carrier on the bridge in Cairo is on flames, and the rioters are still trying to topple it over into the Nile.

It's 5 minutes away from 7 o'clock in Egypt, and Mubarak has not yet appeared to speak to his people. Meanwhile, the headquarters of his political party in Cairo are in flames, and we can hear the explosions of heavy ammunition.

Observers are alarmed by the proximity of Egypt's great museum. The final evening prayers have just ended. The city is engulfed in black smoke, and there are no longer any signs of police.

Hillary Clinton, head of the US Department of State, has just intervened in real time, urging the Egyptian government and the protesters to calm down. It's now 7.15 pm in Egypt, and the army has just arrived calmly in Alexandria, where they were greeted favorably by onlookers.

Friday, February 19, 2010

"InDNA" Jones in Egypt

In former times, the hero of this tale would have been Tutankhamun himself, of course.

These days, one has the impression that a more powerful Egyptian chief than the New Kingdom pharaoh has arisen, and is stealing the archaeological limelight at times.

The name of the all-powerful boss of Egyptian antiquities is Zahi Hawass. He's the man who's presently blocking (for reasons I fail to grasp) an examination of the interior of the Great Pyramid of Giza that might confirm the extraordinary construction theory put forward by the French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin. On this subject, see my article of 27 November 2008 entitled How did they do it? [display]

Hawass has the look and style (and the hat, too) of the movie archaeologist Indiana Jones. As of a fortnight ago, I think that Hawass deserves a nickname: "InDNA". He revealed, in a press conference, that genetic tests indicate that Tutankhamun was the fruit of an incestuous affair between Akhenaten and his sister. The name of this lady is unknown, but we might suppose that young Tut simply called her Mummy [shameful pun].

Today, everybody knows that it's not a good idea for brothers and sisters to procreate, because human chromosomes can get horribly screwed up in situations of that kind. For example, it appears that Tutankhamun, who died at the age of 19, suffered from malaria, a cleft lip and an inherited bone disease that caused him to have a club foot. As if that weren't enough, he was represented in paintings as an androgynous creature. Of course, you don't notice any of these genetic flaws when you admire the dead pharaoh through his funeral mask and mummy swaddling. But you can't hide anything from DNA tests.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How did they do it?

Whenever I see an exceptionally spectacular human creation—such as a fortress perched above sheer cliffs, for example, at the tip of a mountain—my spontaneous reaction consists of asking: How did they do it? Even before deciding whether or not the construction impresses me, or even pleases me aesthetically, I'm obsessed by the question of how, in concrete terms, it came into being.

The Parthenon is a special case in that, the more I learn about its structure, the more I ask that same question: How did they do it? Superficially, the great Athenian sanctuary appears to be quite regular from a geometrical viewpoint: nothing but a parallel series of vertical columns supporting a horizontal superstructure. But this is a gigantic illusion. When everything is measured, we learn with astonishment that there are no straight parallel lines whatsoever in the Parthenon. Everything is curved, often enormously. And the raison d'être of this curved design is to create the optical illusion of linearity, straightness and parallelism. In other words, if the stones were really straight, they would look curved. So, they've been deliberately curved by the architect in order to create the impression that they are straight.

Stonehenge, at first sight, is the sort of construction that tempts many folk to wonder whether it might have been built with help from the magical powers of Druids, or maybe even extraterrestrial giants. Finally, however, it's not too difficult to imagine ways in which the giant blocks might have been transported and then raised into their vertical positions.

No doubt the biggest construction mystery of all time has concerned the Great Pyramid of Giza... which happens to be the only one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World that still exists.

Well, a former French architect named Jean-Pierre Houdin, with no specialized training in Egyptology, has just invented a revolutionary theory according to which the construction of the pyramid would have involved an internal ramp whose linear segments would have emerged into an open platform at each edge of the ascending pyramid, enabling a block to be turned and lifted onto the next segment of the ramp.

Houdin performed his calculations and computer modeling using resources supplied by the hi-tech company Dassault Systèmes. The following video gives you a good idea of the construction techniques imagined by Houdin:

As strange as it might seem, we can say retrospectively that, up until this theory was invented, the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza had simply remained a total mystery. One might conclude that humanity seems to get along quite well without having to find answers to the question: How did they do it?

ADDENDUM: I've just finished reading an excellent book on Jean-Pierre Houdin's theory of the construction of the Great Pyramid. Coauthored by the celebrated US Egyptologist Bob Brier, the book is available from Amazon either in English or in French.

I bought the French version, because I wanted to read the preface by the French TV personality and intellectual François de Closets, who actually played a role in publicizing this huge breakthrough in our knowledge of the ancient world.