By welcoming Prince Charles, the Egyptian leader sends a message

GIZA, Egypt – The royal visit was tightly choreographed. Egyptian authorities have closed roads, cleaned up trash and banned camel drivers, peddlers and tourists, eager to present the pyramids to Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. But no one explained the stray dog.

Visibly dark, he crossed the road on foot, wagging his tail, just as the royal black BMW pulled up in front of the Great Pyramid. Frantic gunfire ensued. The dog trotted off, the men in suits exhaled. Their Royal Highnesses posed, smiled and embarked on a guided tour, Charles holding Camilla’s arm to stabilize her on the rocks.

Thursday afternoon’s tour was the Royal Family’s first visit to Egypt since 2006 and their first trip out of Britain since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a trip royal family watchers have found to be valuable. all the more viewable given the fragile health of Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth II, who has ceded the travel rights to her son.

But the Egypt Charles saw was not the same Egypt he saw 15 years ago, nor, for that matter, the Egypt that a previous Prince of Wales had visited on camel back in 1889. , seven years after the conquest of Egypt by Great Britain and the start of its six decades. long occupation.

Despite the stray dogs, this Egypt is nobody’s colony.

The royal family’s next stop after the pyramids on Thursday says a lot about where Egypt, during the reign of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is seen: a sleek new restaurant overlooking the pyramids that is one of the gems of the government’s campaign for spruce its star attraction, where rubbish and over-enthusiastic touts have tended to confuse its majesty.

In fact, Mr. el-Sisi has planned a makeover for virtually all of Egypt. In his haste to modernize the most populous country in the Arab world, he is building a sprawling new capital, building new roads and bridges across central Cairo, leveling down informal poor neighborhoods, and even eliminating tuk-tuks, Three-wheeled taxis used in many poor countries.

After years of political unrest and violence following the Egyptian revolution of 2011, Mr. el-Sisi, a former general who took power after a military coup overthrew the president-elect in 2013, also repositioned the country as a regional heavyweight: host of the upcoming United Nations climate summit, a growing competitor in the natural gas industry, a business destination for European energy giants and defense, and a valuable partner of the United States on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

“For Egypt, this visit marks an important next step as the regime continues to rehabilitate its image,” said Hafsa Halawa, a non-resident Egyptian-Iraqi-British scholar at the Middle East Institute. The visit, she said, “stamps this growing self-confidence for the regime.”

All of this despite the escalating repression and human rights violations that shaped Mr. el-Sisi’s regime. The day before Charles and Camilla’s arrival, an Egyptian court sentenced three opposition figures to extended prison terms.

For two countries with such a charged history – Britain ruled Egypt as a colony until the 1950s, enlisting peasant labor, fiercely suppressing opposition and controlling Egypt’s finances – there was little tension around the arrival of the royal family. (The main objections on the Egyptian side came from supporters of Princess Diana, who greeted the visit with rebuke about Charles’ treatment of his ex-wife.)

Remnants of British rule remain in Cairo, from the former British Officers’ Club where upper-class Egyptians can still play croquet, to the downtown square named for the liberation of Egypt. But Brits in Egypt are more likely to hear Egyptians light up on Manchester United and Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian football star who plays for Liverpool, than to complain about Britain’s long-standing control over the Suez Canal. Some Egyptians even hire the British for building trains and other infrastructure, although these were originally built to serve British economic interests.

Today, relations are cheerful, with Egypt hosting significant British investment and trade. Charles’ long-standing climate advocacy made the visit a transfer of hosting functions for the World Climate Conference, held in Glasgow this year and will come to Egypt next year. The couple continued in Alexandria on Friday before returning to Britain.

In a nod to Charles’ interest in religious diversity, members of the royal family moved from meeting Mr. el-Sisi on Thursday to Al-Azhar, the most influential Muslim learning center in the world. ‘Sunni Islam.

Then it was the pyramids’ turn, where the government hired one of Egypt’s largest conglomerates to build new restaurants and a new visitor center, develop a sound and light show, and transport tourists to a new one. electric bus system.

Not far away was the Great Egyptian Museum, which was due to open at the Pyramids next year after many years of delay as one of the largest museums in the world. Its gray, angular mass could hardly contrast much more with the dusty pink neoclassicism of the 119-year-old Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo, which it is supposed to replace.

Each week, more of the treasures from the old museum are transported by truck to the new one. Some watch with sadness the emptying of the building with its refined charm and in tatters. But it’s hard to deny the symbolic appeal of transferring the Egyptian Pharaonic heritage from an institution imagined by Europeans – a building named after some of the European Egyptologists who brought many of the most important Egyptian artifacts back to Europe. – and in a museum of Egyptian construction.

Europe’s enduring possession of some of Egypt’s most famous antiquities, including the Rosetta Stone, which is in the British Museum, is but a sore point in Egypt’s tortured relationship with the West.

Egyptian society, or at least its upper echelons, has leaned west at least since then Egyptian ruler Khedive Ismail remodeled downtown Cairo with Parisian-style boulevards and European-style facades. in the 1860s. Today, wealthy Egyptians buy homes in gated communities with names like Beverly Hills; they make sure their children learn English, even at the expense of classical Arabic, in private international schools with names like Malvern College.

“When you say barra – ‘abroad’ in Egyptian Arabic – the implication is automatically from a better place,” wrote Youssef Rakha, an Egyptian novelist, in a 2020 essay, “Barra and Zaman”.

Mr. el-Sisi, too, longs for validation from the West, as evidenced by his attempts to secure a face-to-face meeting with President Biden. But his government is also lashing out at the West for rallying Egyptians around his regime, accusing dissent of foreign interference, prosecuting advocacy groups on politically motivated charges of receiving foreign funding and retaliating against Western critics. Egypt’s human rights record.

Denigrating the West may be little more than a nationalist punch, but it is rooted in a bitter struggle against British occupation.

To bring down the opposition, it was the British who first created many of the repressive tactics that the Egyptian authoritarians who succeeded them then used against their citizens.

“The irony is that many of the techniques and institutions that the Egyptian state has deployed to arrest, torture, sometimes murder its suspected enemies have been implemented and developed to de facto support British colonial rule,” Aaron said. Jakes, professor of history at The New School who wrote the book “Egypt’s Occupation: Colonial Economism and the Crises of Capitalism”.

The British occupiers dismissed the Egyptians as backward, unfit to govern themselves. Mr. el-Sisi, too, often seems to think little of the Egyptians, whom he frequently urges to lose weight and stop having so many children.

Perhaps this is why the authorities spent the hours before Charles and Camilla arrived at the pyramids chasing most of the Egyptians out.

The road, newly emptied of coffee carts and roasted sweet potato vendors, was lined in place of policemen and floating Union Jacks. The pyramids were, for once, without a camel. Only the stray dogs remained.

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