One Month Back

Now that I have been back in the United States for a month I have had more than enough time to reflect on my experience in Cairo as well as readjust back to life in upstate New York. Coming back felt a little weird at first, like I was not gone for too long and everything, for the most part, was the same. Meanwhile I was on a roller-coaster ride, like a weird dream I was caught in limbo. One of the hardest parts about being back is answering the question, ” How was Cairo?” and so far I have been unable to answer that in a few sentences while retaining someone’s attention. It was like a crazy academic learning intensive vacation, but the type of learning where you gain something new through doing, through trial and error. Where you figure out that in order to get your taxi driver to take you home for not an extremely crazy price, just attempt to talk in Arabic; by learning so much about Middle Eastern politics, religion and ethnicity it seems like this information was somehow absorbed into my mind by osmosis rather than actually acquired through academic means. It was more than I would have learned in any classroom.
Another crazy thing about being back is coming from a city filled with 20 million people to town of less than 8000. However, growing up in upstate New York my whole life it has been nice to be back in quiet old New Paltz. This is part of the mixed blessing of being home, you miss so much but yet you are so happy to be back. There are some things you miss more than anything and yet there are some things you are so happy that are gone. I also think that it is a scenario where the grass is greener on the other side. I have come to realize that traveling is addictive, as soon as I settled down all I wanted to do is get up and go anywhere, as long as it was abroad, go and explore, see what there was beyond New York. As of now I am here in New Paltz and back in school for the semester which I am happy about. We will see what happens in the future and hopefully someday I will be able to go back to Egypt and see how much the country has (possibly) advanced and changed in the time I was gone.

Y3llla boi boi

Well, four and a half months later its back to New York. It really has not felt like I have been in Cairo all that long, but a whole semester has passed and its already late December. I think part of it is the fact that the weather does not seem to change much, it feels like I have been stuck in late September forever. In some weird way it makes it seem like I’m in limbo, I was expecting the cold to come and the seasons/ weeks to progress but they didn’t and before I knew it, it was almost Christmas.
However, it is what it is and sadly I am leaving AUC, Cairo and Egypt behind and welcoming back New York tomorrow. With so much transpiring in Egypt and throughout the Middle East this past fall it feels like so much more has happened than a simple semester at college. As an international relations major I could not have asked for more  during my time in Cairo. Beyond my academic experience Cairo has offered me so much and I have been able to take in so much more than I had imagined. Not only has my experience made me become more adaptable and flexible in new environments but it has definitely increased my understanding of Arab culture as well as Middle Eastern politics in general. I know this all may sound cliché ( saying that is cliché) but being in Cairo and meeting all the people I have shared this experience with has definitely been a profound and unforgettable experience.
Not only have I been able to study a subject which I am extremely interested in, but being in Cairo gave me a great chance to travel and experience a country which has so much to offer, not only visually but also culturally. I also could have not gotten luckier with the suite-mates which I was randomly assigned to live with. Besides me, the three other boys I lived with where from California, New Zealand(the Kiwi) and France. Throughout the semester we have done almost everything with each other and have definitely established connections that will hopefully last for a long time. It is very sad to leave Egypt but even more sad to leave all the great people I have met and have come to know well; they are all truly exceptional and kind-hearted people. However, I am excited to go back to New York and bring what I have learned and experienced here in Egypt with me. There is no better way to describe my emotions today as some of mixed feelings.


As my time in Cairo is winding down to its last week, the political turmoil which is engulfing the country seems to be increasing day by day. With everything that has happened this semester in Cairo and Egypt I realized that no matter how angry people are or how bad the politics and economy gets, people still must go about their daily lives and they do this with a sense of optimism which is very encouraging and inspirational to watch. It seems no matter how repressive and pessimistic the future might look, the Egyptian people always  move on with an ever endearing passion.
This aspect of turmoil which is part of Egyptians everyday lives has been quite evident during my final exam week here in Cairo because there is nothing like trying to study and take final exams when a country of 90 million people is going to vote on their constitution. Because the national referendum is supposed to held tomorrow (December 15th) the Egyptian government has declared it a national holiday and therefore the AUC campus will be closed and all finals exams will need to be rescheduled, only a couple of days before they were supposed to happen. This caused some frustration with students and teachers alike, but when a country is experiencing such disorder as what is happening now in Egypt such procedure becomes expected and normalized. This past week has been very busy with all of the final exams and papers, but as of Sunday I am done with everything. That leaves me five days to relax and travel around Cairo before I fly back to New York on the 21st and say goodbye to Egypt.


While I am  writing this blog post anti-Morse protests are being held outside his presidential palace as well as in Tahrir which involve tens of thousands of demonstrators. As of now the Egyptian people will hold a national referendum on the constitution on December fifteenth. However, many secularists, liberals and leftists oppose the constitution saying it allows religious authorities too much influence over the Egyptian state and that it denies some human rights. There now seems to be a major power play going on between The Brotherhood, their supporters and the government of Morsi on the one side, while on the other side secular, anti-Islamist groups, the whole judiciary and many more syndicates say the Islamist are trying to ram through a flawed constitution that will allow them to push Egyptian society in the direction of religious conservatism. Meanwhile Morsi is still holding onto his authoritarian like control after making a broad power sweeping decree last week. Because things continue to change daily it will be interesting to see what happens leading up to the December 15th referendum.
On a completely unrelated note I traveled through the Sinai peninsula on an overnight bus last weekend to a small resort town on the Red Sea called Dahab. Formally a Bedouin village, Dahab is considered one of the world’s best diving destinations. Besides doing a lot of snorkeling, eating great seaside dinners and some relaxing swimming in the salty Red Sea, we also climbed to the top of nearby Mt. Sinai. According to Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition, the biblical Mount Sinai was the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. At the mouth of an inaccessible gorge at the foot of modern Mount Sinai lies St. Catherine’s monastery. The monastery is Greek Orthodox and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to a UNESCO report this monastery has been called the oldest working Christian monastery in the world.
In order to climb to the top of the mountain we took a minibus which left at midnight and drove two hours to the foot of the mountain. From there we climbed for four hours towards the top in complete darkness, stopping every now and then to rest at little Bedouin huts which served coffee and refreshing tea. Before coming to the top of the mountain, which has an elevation of 7,497 ft, we stopped in the last Bedouin hut where everyone huddled for warmth in huge blankets waiting for dawn. At around 5:30 AM we all finished the journey to the peak and sat there for about an hour and a half watching the sunrise. Below are various pictures of the whole trek as well as a link for the translated version of the Egyptian Constitution if anyone if interested.

Protests (2)

As Egyptians fill Tahrir Square demanding a true democracy the leader of the country once again stands defiant to the outrage of the general public. President Morsi or “Pharaoh” Morsi as some have now called him, issued a decree on Thursday granting himself broad powers above any courts and labeled himself as the guardian of Egypt’s revolution. This immediately sparked outrage from all people within Egypt, except for his supporters within the Muslim Brotherhood. This outrage culminated in a Tuesday night demonstration which filled Tahrir square with over 100,000 protesters demanding Morsi rescind his decree. While there have been various protests all over Egypt since I arrived, none have appeared as big or important as what is happening now. For the first time since the Mubarak uprising people from all throngs of life are standing side by side and it is not only one dichotomy of the population. Not only are people not happy politically but there is also major concern for the economic situation in a country which has taken quite a hard financial downturn. There seems to be a buzz in the air and something is going to change unless Morsi acts quickly and decisively. With more rallies and protests planned for this weekend by opposition groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, it will be interesting to see what the outcome will be for Egypt’s fledgling democracy.
Below are some pictures from various news sites of the protests.

The City of Cairo

After attending a lecture by Mohamed Elshahed on the condition of the city of Cairo, its infrastructure, architecture and how both the government’s social and economical policies effect all peoples and the actual city itself, I realized I had not yet blogged about the city or its history. Ignoring that would be a fatal mistake because the city of Cairo is one of the oldest and largest metropolitan areas in the world. So, here is a quick, rudimentary history of the city, some of the problems it is facing since the revolution and an overview of Cairo in general. A quick disclaimer first, there are multiple variations of all of the facts stated below, especially when it comes to numbers and statistics.
Cairo was founded in 969 AD by the Fatimid dynasty. The land composing the present-day city was the site of national capitals whose remnants remain visible in parts of Old Cairo. It is very hard to determine the actual city limits of Cairo today because it is such a sprawling metropolis and includes many other cities, but the area around present-day Cairo, especially Memphis, had long been a focal point of Ancient Egypt due to its strategic location just upstream from the Nile Delta. However, the origins of the modern city are generally traced back to a series of settlements in the first millennium. In 1250 slave soldiers, known as the Mamluks, seized control of Egypt and like many of their predecessors established Cairo as the capital of their new dynasty. Construction projects initiated by the Mamluks pushed the city outward while also bringing new infrastructure to the center of the city. Meanwhile, Cairo flourished as a center of Islamic scholarship and a crossroads on the spice trade route among the civilizations in Afro-Eurasia. By 1340, Cairo had a population of close to half a million, making it the largest city west of China.
Under the Ottomans, Cairo expanded south and west . The city was the second-largest in the empire, behind only Constantinople.Throughout Ottoman rule and beyond, Cairo was under the influence and sometimes direct rule of the British empire before becoming fully independent in 1922. However, British troops remained in the country until 1956 and during this time urban Cairo, spurred by new bridges and transport links, continued to expand to include the upscale neighborhoods of Garden City, Zamalek, and Heliopolis. Between 1882 and 1937, the population of Cairo more than tripled and its area increased from 10 square kilometers (4 sq mi) to 163 square kilometers (63 sq mi). The metropolis began to encroach on the fertile Nile Delta, prompting the government to build desert satellite towns and devise incentives for city-dwellers to move to them.
The Cairo metropolitan area is estimated to be around 20 million people, making it one of the largest in the world and it continues to grow, leaving the government to deal with a continuing problem of over population in many of the most densely populated and poverty stricken parts of the city. This overpopulation has lead to some of the greatest traffic congestion to take place in the world. Even with increased railways and a subway system, traffic continues to be a problem of everyday life in Egypt. Also, the air pollution in Cairo is a matter of serious concern. On many days you can see great smog clouds, especially as the sun sets and you can feel the heavy air in your lungs. Another problem that has worsened since the revolution is the mountains of garbage lining the streets. However, despite its lack of infrastructure and its streets being overcrowded with both people and garbage there is something addictive about the city and is culture.
The economy of Cairo was ranked first in the Middle East and 43rd globally by Foreign Policy’s 2010 Global Cities Index. Cairo also boasts the world’s second-oldest institution of higher learning, al-Azhar University. That is just a quick overview of the long complicated history of the city and also an attempt to write out how massive the city actually is. Below are more pictures of the city as well as a lot of artwork/ graffiti that has been plastered around Tahrir since the revolution. There are three links for the information I had used to write this article including the blog of Mohamed Elshahed which is quite interesting ( Cairo observer) and is worth a look if you are interested in more. Happy Thanksgiving!
Of course- Wikipedia

Abu Simbol

On our last day in Luxor we woke up very early and took a three and a half hour drive south to Aswan. We had a two hour wait in Aswan before we could catch the caravan to Abu Simbol. During these two hours we walked around, drank coffee and went on the long hard search of finding a bathroom. Once our car arrived we joined a caravan with about three other cars full of tourists and two army/ police vehicles. For security reasons all trips to Abu Simbol must be like this, in a caravan. However, once we got on the highway the caravan seemed to break down and it was everyone for himself, who could go the fastest on the open desert road. Once we left the city limits of Aswan there was nothing, just a black strip of pavement and white sand in every direction for the next three and a half hours. Unlike the drive from Luxor to Aswan where there were many little villages and sparsely populated communities, the drive to Abu Simbol was one with no signs of life and very solemn. About half way there we started to notice water on the outer edges of the desert, but to our surprise it was nothing more than a mirage(as pictured below). It was quite a strange sight. It looked exactly like real water and sometimes it even took effect on the road and appeared to be real until the car drove up to its edge and it magically disappeared.
The magnificent temple of Abu Simbol, is quite an extraordinary sight, both on the inside and outside. With two temples hidden in the Nubian desert arising out of Lake Nasser, Abu Simbol is definitely one of the more impressive ancient sites in Egypt. The complex is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Nubian Monuments.” The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, to commemorate his alleged victory at the Battle of Kadesh, and to intimidate his Nubian neighbors. However, the complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir. The relocation of the temples was necessary to avoid their being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, the massive artificial water reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River. Below are pictures of the temples, the lake and other pictures from the journey.


Traveling within Egypt is quite an adventure, partially because of the language barrier, partially because of the culture barrier and partially because it is just Egypt. However, it is amazing. I am going to split the weeks travels into two posts because there is a lot to write, and so I have something to post next week. I will talk about Luxor this week and Aswan/ Abu Simbel next week. Also, I would like to mention quickly that on our way to the train station it rained for less than five minutes, the first time it has done so since I have been here.
We traveled to Luxor by taking a sleeper/ overnight train from Cairo which was quite luxurious compared to the crammed cars that we witnessed leaving before us. Because it was the day leading up to Eid the trains were over packed and the demand for travel seemed to be quite high. As we waited at the station for our train, which was an hour late( pretty standard by Egyptian time), people fought, climbed on top of, jumped through windows and positioned themselves in between the train cars in order to catch a ride to presumably their families from the country side.
Upon arriving in Aswan our group was immediately surrounded by people begging us to take their taxi, book reservations in their hotel and with their travel agencies to take tours. Since the revolution, tourism has hit an all time low and the smaller cities such as Luxor thrive on tourism, so seeing a big group of white young travelers was the perfect pray for these men. After walking for almost more than twenty minutes they would still not leave us alone, and continued to harass us even after many shouting matches. Eventually we made it to the hotel, Happy Land Hotel ( which I would recommend to anyone traveling in Egypt). Immediately we set up a trip to see the Valley of The Kings.
The Valley of the Kings is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom . The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile, opposite Luxor. The valley is known to contain 63 tombs with over 120 chambers. It was the principal burial place of the major royal figures of the Egyptian New Kingdom, together with those of a number of privileged nobles. The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period. The valley has become famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside the whole place including the tombs themselves and when I tried to sneak some photos I was caught immediately.
We also visited the Temple of Karnack and Luxor. The Temple of Karnack was quite a wonder and sat on over 64 acres of land. The complex is a vast open-air museum and the largest ancient religious site in the world. One famous aspect of Karnack, is the Hypostyle Hall in the Precinct of Amun-Re, a hall area of 50,000 sq ft with 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. 122 of these columns are 10 meters tall, and the other 12 are 21 meters tall with a diameter of over three meters. We were allowed to take pictures here so most of what is shown below is from either of the two temples. We also got to experience the slaughter of many animals and see the streets filled with the bloody reminisces of the holiday. Below are pictures of The Temple of Karnack, other various temples/ ancient sites around Luxor and more pictures just from the trip.

Eid Al-Adha

For the past couple of weeks I have mostly stuck to the greater Cairo area. It has been nice exploring the city more and more and getting to finely feel comfortable with some of the streets of Cairo. Of course their is something unexpected around every turn, but over all I am definitely starting to feel comfortable in this city. Also with the weather cooling off, it makes the daytime and the nighttime much more enjoyable. Its strange how 70 degrees can feel very cold. With makeup classes happening on Saturdays now due to all the time we lost during the student strike the workload has been a bit more heavy and concentrated. This has definitely cut back on touristy activities and trips that we would be able to do.
However, This coming weekend is a holiday called Eid al-Adha. Al-Adha is is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to honor the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a sheep to sacrifice instead. The holiday is celebrated by the

“Sacrifice of peoples best halal domestic animals (usually a cow, but can also be a camel, goat, sheep or ram depending on the region) as a symbol of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son. The sacrificed animals, called Uḍhiyyah (Arabic: أضحية‎, also known by its Persian term, “al-Qurbāni”), have to meet certain age and quality standards or else the animal is considered an unacceptable sacrifice. This tradition accounts for more than 100 million slaughtering of animals in only 2 days of Eid. In Pakistan alone nearly 10 million animals are slaughtered on Eid days costing over US$ 3 billion.”

Also during this time many Muslims start their long pilgrimage to Mecca. As we don’t plan to do any animal slaughtering it will definitely be interesting to experiance the festival and witness the sacrificing. During the time off though, I am going to take a trip to Luxor Egypt which is about an eight hour train ride directly south down the Nile. We plan to visit the Valley of The Kings and the many other monuments that are their. While down there, if there is time, we will also go to Aswan and Abu Simbal, which is a UNESCO world heritage cite. I will post when I get back and hopefully have many pictures to put up!

Below are web cites where I got some of the information concerning Eid. If you are interested check them out or do some googling.


Going to Alexandria was a nice break from the crowded smoggy streets of Cairo. Being Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria certainly has a different feel to it than Cairo. Right away you can tell it is a Mediterranean city, with the constant breeze filling the streets and the colorful buildings lining the streets. Being one of the major port cities along the sea, the atmosphere of fish fills the air which is one of the main reasons it boasts some of the best seafood in the world. It also definitely felt less crowded than Cairo with a population of five million, compared to that of twenty million.

After visiting many tourist cites the two that stood out the most where the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa and of course The Library of Alexandria. The Catacombs are a mixture of Roman, Greek and Egyptian influence buried deep beneath the streets. The Library of Alexandria or, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is quite a modern wonder in a city filled with ancient ones. The library almost seems out of place due to its modernity (being opened in 2002). When stepping inside the vastness of the open reading area it is quite amazing to look around and view the amazing structure. The history behind the Library itself is  interesting as well as the amazing database it now has on its online website. The library also has a printing machine which can print a 500 page book, cover and all, and bind it in under 4 minutes.  Below are pictures of the catacomb, the city, the Roman theater and The Library.