ARK things considered
10:37 pm
Thu February 17, 2011

The Calm before the Storm: My Trip to Egypt before Revolution

Today marks the one month anniversary of my return to the U.S., after a whirlwind trip to Egypt. Over the course of 10 days, I immersed myself in the unique history, vibrant culture, and delicious cuisine of that captivating country. My journey was simply amazing and the experience unforgettable, but I had no clue that during my time there I would witness the dawning of a democratic revolution throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Malcolm and the pyramids at Giza.
Credit Malcolm Glover

Like many journalists, I’m intrigued by all of the political wrangling and public uprisings in that part of the world, but in all honesty, I traveled to Egypt for a much needed vacation. The constant waking-up at 4a.m. to host Morning Edition can wear-down even the most vigilant news reporter. I was ready for adventure, a change of scenery, and the chance to sleep late. My sole mission for the trip was to rest, relax, and fulfill a lifelong dream of exploring a country that I’ve been enthralled with for many years.

Ever since childhood, when I first flipped through the glossy pages of National Geographic magazine and learned about ancient pharaohs and the pyramids in grade school, I knew I had to visit Egypt one day. In college, my fascination with that country grew as I studied the historic Camp David Accords and diplomatic efforts by Anwar Sadat to promote peace between Egypt and Israel.

In September of last year after a long day at the radio station, I decided to seize the moment. In order to breakaway from the monotony of work, I began planning my tourist’s escape with the help of a local travel agent. By the time January 7, 2011 arrived, I couldn’t wait to leave Little Rock behind. After 14 hours in the air on various flights, I made it to Cairo and started a compelling journey that never had a dull moment.

While in Egypt, I saw the splendor of rural life from the bumpy confines of my room on an overnight train and I sailed on the Nile River for three days. I enjoyed the pastoral beauty of Aswan, Kom Ombo, Edfu, and Abu Simbel, as I trekked through ruins. I embraced the hectic pace of a cosmopolitan Cairo and fell in love with Luxor’s perfect mix of ancient sites and modern charm. I explored tombs in the Valley of the Kings; visited exquisite temples built in honor of pharaohs; and stood in awe of the Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza.

While touring the countryside and interacting with the Egyptian people, I noticed disparities between the rich and poor. Yet Egypt’s socioeconomic problems seemed no different from the ones that plague American society. As a matter of fact, right now the unemployment rate in Egypt is around nine percent, just like the United States. However, the United Nations reports that 90 percent of unemployed Egyptians are under the age of 30, a key factor for later uprisings.

Calls for revolution in that region hit a fever pitch midway through my trip. On January 14, after almost a month of demonstrations, the people of Tunisia ousted their president of 23 years. At the time, many of us knew that such a decisive victory for the protesters would have ramifications for some of Tunisia’s neighbors. Yet none of us realized how quickly change would come.

A few days after I returned to Arkansas, the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 began. Thousands of Egyptians, who were fed-up with governmental policies and wanted economic and social reforms, participated in a series of street demonstrations, marches, rallies and other acts of civil disobedience, violent clashes, and labor strikes that lasted for 18 days and led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

Seeing the revolution from afar was bittersweet. The journalist in me wanted to be where the action was. Yet after reading about and watching the violence and utter chaos, I knew I had visited and left Egypt at the right time. I was also saddened by reports of looting and theft at the museum in Cairo, a place filled with thousands of priceless Egyptian antiquities that I saw firsthand only a week earlier.

The events in Egypt and Tunisia this year have spawned similar protests in Iran, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco and many other places. Though the countries are different, their peoples’ calls for government transparency, social justice, and economic reform are the same.

As the Egyptian people chart a course toward a new future, I can’t help but marvel at the fact that I was an eyewitness to history. I experienced the calm before the storm – peacetime before revolution. I hope to return to Egypt one day, meet with old friends, and embrace a culture of resilient people who have healed old wounds and found the courage and strength to build a more stable and prosperous society that benefits all citizens.

Comments (3 posted)virginia Mar 03rd 2011 Truly an experience of a lifetime. I am glag you made it back before the storm. Tammy Mar 02nd 2011 I agree with Lisa....what a moving experience! I'm so glad you went when you did. Lisa` Mar 02nd 2011 What a wonderful and moving experience you had! This is a great post, I'm sure everyone would love to see more photos!