The United States and Egypt as Soul Mates
by Jimmy Dunn
It might shock many of our readers for me to assert that, of all the countries in the world, hardly any two are more closely related than the United States and Egypt, but there are striking historical similarities between these two nations. In a very broad manner, Egypt is the United States' older brother, and there are important lessons to be learned from older brothers. This is certainly one of the reasons many more Americans should visit this ancient land.
Five thousand years ago, a fledgling Egyptian nation grew out of the primeval culture of prehistory, and incubated by a land rich in the natural resources and at the same time, isolated from other cultures, grew into a world superpower. For these early Egyptians, the fertile, northern Nile Valley was a self contained ecosystem that provided the necessities of life. Anthropologists believe that early mankind had to first meet their needs that were essential for living, such as food, shelter and clothing, prior to expanding into a culturally diverse society where governance, art and the sciences begin to flourish. In Egypt, the Nile Valley provided these necessities and thus allowed the Egyptians from very early in their history to expand beyond the boundaries of mere existence. They became nation builders, constructing bureaucracies that often dwarfed their great monumental buildings and in their people great thinkers emerged from an environment that allowed them to become technologically superior to many if not all of their neighbors.
Likewise, the Europeans and others who settled in the New World of North America along the United States' Eastern coast at first were agrarian; fairly simple farmers who struggled to meet the demands of their families for food and shelter. But just as in Egypt, these early settlers soon expanded their society, and fortified by a land rich in resources, grew into the superpower that it is today.
It is interesting to note that, on their roads to becoming superpowers, both of these nations also had to confront conflicts, sometimes violent, between their northern and southern provinces. In their earliest times, both Egypt and the United States maintained a definite sense of North and South, ultimately resulting in civil war, and even today, in both countries, vestiges of these earlier attitudes remain. Likewise, a great river flowed through both nations between these two regions.
However, neither Ancient Egypt nor the United States may have achieved their ultimate greatness were it not for their isolation and natural defenses against the outside world. During its formative years, the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Pacific Ocean to the west provided protection to the United States from other world powers while to the north their benign Canadian neighbors were no threat, and to the south, their weaker Mexican neighbors were soon no match in terms of power. The early Egyptians also benefited from the great sand sea of the Sahara (Libyan) Desert to the west, as well as more desert to the east which shielded them from invading forces and allowed their civilization to grow mostly unabated. Their benign neighbor to the north was the Mediterranean Sea and to the south, the Nubians were only a threat during Egypt's most vulnerable periods during its 3,000 years of pharaonic history. During the remainder of that history, the Nubians were subjugated to Egyptian dominance. In fact, just as in the United States, while the political southern border was set, many of their southern neighbors migrated into Egypt and creating a much more fuzzy cultural border.
The combination of a beautiful superpower country rich in resources, but also isolated from their neighbors influenced both the people of Egypt and the modern United States. It was difficult for the common, ancient Egyptian man to transverse the deserts into foreign lands, just as today, it is often prohibitively expensive for a common American to fly to Europe or Asia. At the same time, there was superior law and order at home for both nations, and a beautiful domestic landscape for both peoples to explore and idolize. The ancient Egyptians loved their land just as modern Americans love theirs, and for many of the same reasons.
Hence, both in the modern United States and in ancient Egypt, there was wariness about the outside world. Egyptians saw foreign lands as chaotic and basically, unsafe regions of rather inferior people. Though it may be politically incorrect to make such a statement, many common Americans think in similar terms. Those attitudes in both lands concerning chaos and safety likely resulted from isolation, while the feelings of superiority spring from their residence in a superpower.
In fact, ancient Egypt was a place that people migrated to, not from, just as they do to the United States today. However, just as they come to the United States today, people migrated to Egypt mostly to share in its bountiful resources rather than to escape any chaos of the outside world.
Both the United States and ancient Egypt raised large, sophisticated armies. And though both sent their military far afield in relative terms, neither sought especially to colonize regions outside their country. Rather, most of the military actions were simply to defend and protect their borders, sometimes by establishing peripheral corridors. Egypt was seen by its ancient rulers as a paradise amongst a world that they actually ruled. They were not merely the kings of Egypt, but of the ancient world, at least in their own minds, and today, we also see the United States, secure in its own borders, but also seeing itself in the role of policing the world. However, regardless of their might, both countries suffered military quagmires. For the United States, it was Vietnam, and perhaps others conflicts such as Korea. For the Egyptians, it was the Levant, where they mostly fought for a stalemate against the Hittites.
At other times, it must be said that the United States today has, and the ancient Egyptians did use their military to secure resources that were not abundant in their respective lands. For the American, it has been oil, and for the ancient Egyptians, it was gold.
Finally, it should be pointed out that both the United States and Egypt were at one time, colonies of the British Empire, from whom they had to gain their ultimate independence.
At the current age of our modern United States, a little over 200 years old, ancient Egypt had not yet grown beyond its early infancy known as the Early Dynastic Period. Yet beyond these early empire building years were to come setbacks and periods where Egypt could not be shielded when the outside world did, in fact, fall into chaos. In our modern world, the technologies are grander, and the world has surely become a smaller planet, but we still have much to learn from this ancient land, whose lessons can still prove valuable to our future.
Today, Egypt remains, if not a superpower, certainly a regional center of considerable influence. In this region, it is a prosperous country with an expanding middle class that is very attached to the modern world and which has embraced the technologies of the western world. This is a land where life is certainly not cheap, in a non-monetary meaning, because people have a hope and a vision of their future. In comparison with other nearby countries, it is also a country of education, where many attend universities that produce great architects, engineers many medical doctors. Furthermore, it is a regional entertainment hub, where people come to enjoy grand operas, western rock stars and the fathomless assortment of activities that spring from such a large city as Cairo. Of course, there are also the inexpensive beach resorts and European flare of many of Egypt's beach resorts.
While great antiquities are everywhere in Egypt, visitors will find many similarities to their western world as well. This is never more evident than in the western fast food chains, where modern Egyptian teenagers appear so very near to their American counterparts, listening to the latest international hits beaming through the ceiling while cell phones jingle. Down the street, one might even run into a Harley Davidson dealer. Modern Egyptians are family oriented and most wish for nothing more than people elsewhere in the world. They work hard to support their families and to also make their country a fine place for their children to grow into adults. This includes a peaceful environment, and indeed, Egypt is well known as the regional peacemakers. It is no coincidence that many of the peace conferences held to solve Middle Eastern problems, do not take place in the Middle East, but in the African nation of Egypt.
Cairo is by all reckoning one of the two largest cities in the world (the other being Mexico City). Estimates put its population at perhaps as many as sixteen million people. New York, on the other hand, is much smaller. Yet in New York, there were at times several hundred thousand protesters against the Iraqi War and in several instances, these demonstrations got out of hand. During the same time period, only a few thousand anti-war groups demonstrated in Cairo, and with the exception of one short incident, were always under control and confined to very specific locations, while elsewhere in the world, such as in Germany and France, the situation was much, much worse.
During the entire Iraqi campaign by the coalition, there was not a single advisory by the United States Department of State against traveling to Egypt, and indeed, that speaks volumes for the safety standards imposed in Egypt to protect tourists. The Egyptian government has, and continues to be highly opposed to radical factions within its borders and has proactively worked to reduce any such threat. Make no mistake. There is self interest here, for the same group of people who instigated the 9/11 destruction in New York also assassinated the current President of Egypt's predecessor. Furthermore, tourism to Egypt is a major economic factor for Egypt, and they take great lengths to protect that industry.
This has resulted in one of the safest places on earth for travelers. Since 1997 when Egypt inaugurated extensive securities measure that would not be seen in the west for many years, not a single tourist to our knowledge has suffered a violent death; not even due to common criminality. In fact, the world press keeps a very bright light on any such action in Egypt, and the only incident we are aware of is one Japanese tourist who, several years ago, was slightly injured by a knife during an attempted robbery. Even then, Egypt's tourists police were close by, the theft was averted and the perpetrator quickly captured.
Egypt is a country that welcomes tourists with open arms and where all visitors experience a hospitality born of over 2,000 years experience. It remains a beautiful land, rich in wonders, where travelers can golf in the shadows of ancient pyramids or sip cocktails from the balcony of a modern hotel while overlooking the great river of life that bought civilization to the ancient world. They may even drift along the Nile in ultramodern riverboats complete with internet connections and view ancient temples while indulging themselves in hot tubs. Here, history lives to provide us with thought provoking lessons for our future world, but the experiences can be gained in a most pleasant manner.