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Egypt and Conquerers

Egypt and Conquerers

by William H. Benson

July 18, 2013

     Conquerers love Egypt. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte each in their own time invaded Egypt, walked upon Egypt’s sand, sailed on the Nile River, and stared at the relics.

     Alexander, a Macedonian Greek, was only 24 years old in October of 332 B.C. when he arrived in Egypt. Because the Egyptian people hated their Persian rulers, they welcomed Alexander with open arms, called him their Savior and Liberator, a “son of the gods.” He and his troops gaped in amazement at Egypt’s religion, its ritual, its obelisks, its immense “temples not built to human scale,” and at the Great Pyramids at Giza. Alexander conquered Egypt, but Egypt conquered Alexander.

     Three hundred years later, in 48 B.C., the Roman general Julius Caesar invaded Egypt, but the Egyptian people resisted him. They pinned him down in Alexandria, at the mouth of the Nile, but he maintained his naval supply lines and waited for reinforcements. When they arrived, he attacked and destroyed his enemies at the Battle of the Nile in February of 47 B.C. With Egypt in his hands, Caesar placed Egypt’s queen, Cleopatra, upon the throne, and he fell in love with her.

     Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s general, invaded Egypt on July 2, 1798. On July 21, he and his French troops attacked the Mameluks at a site near Cairo, in what is now called the Battle of the Pyramids. As the battle commenced, Napoleon shouted at his troops, “Forward! Remember that from those monuments yonder forty centuries look down upon you.” His troops won the battle that day.

     However, the British Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, had followed Napoleon to Egypt, and at a second Battle of the Nile on August 1, 1798, near Alexandria, Nelson destroyed Napoleon’s naval fleet. The French general marched his troops north into Palestine and Syria where he battled local armies at Jaffa, Acre, Nazareth, and Mount Tabor before he returned to Egypt, and then to France.

     Egyptians can point with pride at a spectacular ancient past that lasted for millennium, that built the Great Pyramids at Cheops, but they despise the foreign conquerers—Alexander, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon—who invaded and subdued their country’s citizens.     

     Today Egypt is in chaos. The Egyptian people are so desperate for food that they may welcome another foreign conquerer, one from Greece, Italy, France, Great Britain, or the United States, because, according to the columnist Thomas L. Friedman, Egypt “is falling apart,” “is in a deep hole,” suffers “from deep economic dislocation and distress,” and may be “ungovernable and the job of president impossible.” “[G]as lines and electricity shortages are everywhere.”

     Eighty million people depend upon the Nile River for their water, bread, and hydroelectric power. With global warming, the Mediterranean Sea’s level has risen, and that has pushed saltwater high into the Nile River’s delta. Mahmoud Medany, an Egyptian agricultural researcher, said, “The Nile is the artery of life, and the Delta is our breadbasket, and if you take that away, there is no Egypt.”

     This economic disaster is matched by political chaos. Following the Arab Spring in 2011 and the overthrow of long-time President, Hosni Mubarak, the new government has struggled. In recent days the people took to the streets to protest President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party’s despotic rule. Although elected by popular vote, the Egyptian army removed Morsi from power, and put him and his gang into jail, where they are held on the charge that they ruined the economy.

     His supporters have sat down in the streets since to protest his imprisonment.

     Friedman admits that Morsi was not capable. “Morsi was not focused on governing and appointing the best people for jobs. He was focused on digging himself and his party into power. There was no chance that Morsi was going to rise to this moment.” Instead, Morsi sought to solidify his own control.

     Friedman answers the question, “Can Egypt pull together?” with a solution. Egypt, he says, needs a leader who inspires “a spirit of inclusion,” who can “strengthen education, shrink the state, stimulate entrepreneurship, empower women, and reform the police and judiciary.”

     That is a solution typical of a journalist from the West, where education is strong, where women are empowered, where entrepreneurship is prized, and where the military defers to the civil government, but it may not be a solution appropriate for the Egyptian people today. They must discover their own solutions for their numerous economic and political difficulties. They must take ownership in their own future. They must muddle through until solutions appear.

     They do not need a foreign conquerer, who will sweep in on his horse and dictate orders. That action overwhelms and disgusts people, and they will rebel.

     Egypt is a land of enchantment, a mecca for tourists, a wonder, an astonishment, the country with the longest history. The Egyptian people will muddle through, as they have for millennium.