Revisiting Egypt

Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:

Garrett-kenneth-giza-pyramid-giza-plateau-old-kingdom-egypt Throughout my time in Egypt I was struck by the uniformity of men's hairstyles: short, parted on the side, moustaches without beards. I couldn't detect the existence of even the most marginal fashion subculture, or of any diversity of taste or manner at all. This impression of homogeneity contrasted with the rich internal lives of the characters in Naguib Mahfouz's Palace Walk, which I had bought at L'Orientaliste and had been reading during the trip.

At times it struck me that I would have felt I understood things better if I had remained content to read an Egyptian novel or two in Germany. The only encounters I had had in Egypt were these aggressive, almost menacing attempts at immediate friendship on the part of young Egyptian men. I have never been an easy friend to anyone, and I had no point of reference in my previous experience for what they seemed to be proposing.

I was not aware at the time that the superficial impressions I was forming were the superficial impressions of a dictatorship. There ought to be a word for it, oughtn't there: these oppressive regimes that nonetheless manage at the same time to convince Westerners that they stand for nothing so much as fun-and-sun (and perhaps a bit of edifying antiquity). It is interesting that the first two countries to catch fire in the wave of Arab revolutions currently underway, Tunisia and Egypt, are the two that have most successfully coupled base kleptocracy and pseudodemocracy with vapid and lucrative tourism industries.

More here.