Yesterday the Sinai arrived in Aswan without too much fuss. Danny and Jill, the couple I shared lunch with in Wadi Halfa, slept the night on the deck in front of the bridge. They must have been freezing. After disembarkation we got chatting outside customs to the Aussie girl who had just, with the help of Mazar and Midhat Mahir, taken the first EVER tourist bus into Egypt from Sudan USING THE ROAD. This is no small achievement and paves the way for much easier travel through Africa for all us overlanders. The Sinai doesn’t take cars: you currently have to leave your vehicle in Wadi Halfa or Aswan for the barge to bring over a few days later.
Danny, Jill and I shared a taxi from the port into town. Wow it’s grown in the last 13 years. In the afternoon I had just an hour to catch up with all my emails which had back-logged since I left Ethiopia before heading over the river to spend some time in Lord Kitchener’s Island, the botanical garden in the middle of the Nile where Mandy and I walked together for the first time back in the heady eclipse-dominated summer of 1999.
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Later, I jumped the night train to Cairo, an 18-hour journey which cost me about £6 in British money: ie. About how much an overnight train journey SHOULD cost, EUROPE I’M LOOKING AT YOU.
I arrived in the great stinking noisy dusty concrete hell-city that is Cairo around 3pm and headed straight for Tahrir cinema in order to meet Kendra, my Bostonian CS host from last time I was in Egypt. She was a bit late and I ended up chatting with Christian, a British guy who had been travelling since I was a wee nipper. (Having a toilet seat strapped to your backpack is a great conversation starter.) We shared tales from the road and I was happy to have him pick my brain about travelling around Africa on a shoestring and without flying as that’s exactly what he planned to do next.
Kendra rucked up fashionably late and after dropping my stuff off at her gaff (and grabbing a much needed shower) we headed out to meet with Midhat Mahir – the Khartoum tour agent that I owe for getting me safely in and out of Sudan. If it wasn’t for Midhat, I’d still be in Ethiopia right now. Honestly, if you’re planning on going to Sudan, or even transiting through, contact Midhat first. He’ll tell you everything you need to know. The fact that it was he and his brother Mazar who were responsible for getting that tourist bus over the border yesterday speaks volumes for his ability to get stuff done in a country notorious for making things as difficult as possible for us hapless wayfarers. Good on ya, Midhat!
Afterwards, Kendra and I jumped a taxi to the famous (and also quite marvellous) Café Riche near Tahrir Square. It didn’t take long before we were boozing and putting the world to rights. Tomorrow is a big day for jolly ol’ Misr (as the Egyptians call Egypt), they’re having a referendum on a constitution that 40% of the country can’t even read, the other 60% can’t understand and that will invest even more power in the hands of the ‘elected’ tyrant (see: all Presidents ever) who currently runs this corrupt, dysfunctional and bizarrely impoverished corner of Africa.
You see, the mistake they made in February 2011 was getting rid of just The President.
They should have got shut of The Presidency.
The new president is a religious fundamentalist (oh yes, the world needs more of that lot…) called Mohammed Morsi. Like all ‘elected’ tyrants (see: all Presidents ever), he is Head of State AND Head of Government as well as being in charge of (*ahem*) the army, the navy, the air force, the police force, the judiciary, the civil service, the tax collectors, the border security, customs, the sea ports, the air ports, Egyptian embassies abroad, the postal system, anything that’s been left nationalised, the oil, the gas, the Suez canal, the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, the remains of Tutankhamen, the bleaching of the Red Sea coral, the dust in the Egyptian museum and that bloody awful new library in Alexandria (hey Christers! Do us a favour – burn it down again!).
Last week his police force shot dead eight people outside his ‘palace’ (does anybody else understand why the ‘elected’ representative of the people gets to live in a palace?? Hmm? And don’t be playing with semantics – The White House is a f—ing palace too and you know it). Their crime? Well, you know: protesting against him. Morsi then went on TV to apologise and singularly failed to apologise. I mean, they had it coming, how dare you protest against your Fuhrer (*cough*) I mean President?! The irony being that Morsi only became president as a result the job vacancy left in the light of of last year’s, erm, goddamnprotests.
I love it when ‘elected’ tyrants (see: all Presidents ever) get stuck into the job straight away, murdering their own and changing the constitution to make themselves pharaoh. It warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it.
I’m sorry if you think I’m labouring the point here, but I firmly believe that Presidencies are deeply flawed systems and are responsible for horror, warfare, murder, poverty and social dysfunction on a par with (and in some cases surpassing) the deeply flawed systems of fascism and communism (I’d throw the childish notions of anarchism and libertarianism in that pot as well). Here is a list of the top ten most democratic countries in the world:
1 Norway 9-10 Full democracy Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism 2 Iceland 9-10 Full democracy Parliamentary republic and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism 3 Denmark 9-10 Full democracy Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism 4 Sweden 9-10 Full democracy Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism 5 New Zealand 9-10 Full democracy Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism 6 Australia 9-10 Full democracy Federalism, constitutional monarchy & parliamentary democracy, bicameralism 7 Switzerland 9-10 Full democracy Federalism, directorial system, bicameralism 8 Canada 9-10 Full democracy Federalism, constitutional monarchy & parliamentary democracy, bicameralism 9 Finland 9-10 Full democracy Parliamentary republic and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism 10 Netherlands 9-10 Full democracy Constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy, bicameralism
In ALL of these countries, Parliament has sovereignty, not the Head of State. Yes you’re right, nobody has ever erected a statue to a committee, but at the end of the day there simply aren’t enough so-called ‘Great Men’ left in the world to justify presidential systems – systems that are abused wholly, completely and without remorse by almost every man who gets the job (invariably by imprisoning, killing or out-spending the other guy). Countries which embrace such madness are in need of some serious time on the naughty step.
Incidentally, although it’s not exhaustive, ALL the bottom fifty on the Democracy Index http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_index have ONE MAN in charge of everything. What a surprise.