When we sailed through the Suez Canal less than two years ago
, we did not suspect that we would be back again so soon. I've reread the entry from that day and am too lazy to repeat the history of the canal that I wrote then. The story we heard today was basically the same, but I was surprised how much more there still was to learn.
I did not understand the role of the military in Egypt. I knew that it was essential for the Egyptian president to have the support of the military, but I did not know that they operate like a country within the country. Although the Suez was financed by bonds paying 18% to the people of Egypt, all the profits from the canal go to the military and no one seems to know exactly what that amounts to. Our tiny cruise ship pays $35,000 every time is sails through. We got a volume discount because the Clio
makes this passage many times over the next few months. Today we were the lead ship in a convoy of 21. Ideally, the Egyptians like to see 49 ships sail through daily. Large container ships pay in the hundreds of thousands. The army is a diverse corporation. It owns resorts, apartment buildings, mosques, and manufactures refrigerators and stoves. Every male is required to serve: a college graduate for one year, a high school graduate for two and an illiterate man for three. Learning how to read and write is part of the curriculum for the illiterate. Our guide Amr served his year working in a hotel owned by the military, not dodging bullets or crawling under chicken wire. The army builds toll roads and gets to keep the tolls. No one knows how much that amounts to either. Of necessity many of the buildings we saw on both sides of the canal belong to the military, because they are in charge of keeping terrorists away and keeping the traffic flowing. They are still recovering from the six year period after the Arab Spring when everyone avoided Egypt like the plague. They don't want that to happen again.
The eastern bank of the Suez which is the beginning of the Sinai Peninsula is becoming more developed now that more tunnels under the canal have been built. The Sinai is a wonderful buffer between Egypt and Israel and they are getting along well these days. Good fences make good neighbors. The army intends to get more aggressive about policing the northern Sinai where all the supply tunnels bring concrete, food stuffs and explosives into the Gaza Strip. I'm sure Israel will be most grateful.
Not too long ago I read an article, which said that the world is running out of sand. In the Caribbean beaches had to be guarded, because thieves would come during the night and steal the sand. In our hometown beaches have to be replenished annually. Any construction that uses concrete uses sand. From what I have seen here in Egypt, they have enough of this resource to take care of the rest of the world for millennia. Everything is dusty and gritty. There seems to be no point in trying to keep things clean, because the next day it is all covered by a fine layer of dust once again.
After we left the canal our Egyptian trip leaders left us. They spoke in heart warming language about how grateful they were that OAT had brought them together with their counterparts in Israel and Jordan. As they planned our itinerary together, they interacted regularly both via Skype and in person. So many preconceived notions fall to the wayside when you meet people face to face. And of course, the Egyptians are especially glad that tourism has returned to their country. We hope that they current president can get them back on an even keel and bring them peace and prosperity. It must be hard when your glory days as a country were 3,000 years ago.