Egypt, with vast swaths of desert in its east and west and the rich Nile River Valley at its heart, is site to one of the world’s earliest and greatest civilizations. Its location at the northeast corner of Africa bordering the Mediterranean Sea has made it a cultural and trading center. But its location has also made it a prize to claim by empires and put it at the center of social and religious movements.
At the beginning of 2014 voters approved a new constitution, the latest of several versions since modern-day Egypt was formed in the 1920s. The constitution’s passage was born from the upheaval that roiled the country and many other Arab nations that sought to end authoritarian rule. Egypt’s 2014 constitution upholds it as a republic with Islam as the state religion and Arabic as the nation’s official language. The country has executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government.
Most economic activity takes place along the Nile River Valley, where the tiny amount of the nation’s arable land resides. Tourism, agriculture and manufacturing are important industries. Social and political uncertainties have adversely affected Egypt’s economy, slowing foreign investment and industries such as tourism, and the fatal crash of an EgyptAir passenger jet in 2016 further rattled the nation’s fragile public relations efforts.
The pyramids are anti-climactic
The iconic image of the pyramids, with its backdrop of endless desert, is a clever trick, as we discover after navigating the congested highways of Cairo, a city of 22 million people. The Giza Pyramids complex lies on the west bank of the Nile, on the city’s outskirts, barely a stone’s throw from the crammed high-rises and bustling bazaars of the sprawling metropolis.
Still, nothing can detract from the majesty of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The UNESCO Heritage-listed site is home to six pyramids; magnificent burial tombs built for the kings of the 4th dynasty around 4,500 years ago. This includes The Great Pyramid, built for King Khufu, and its cloud-grazing 480ft (146m) apex. Keeping loyal guard is the Sphinx – a mythical hybrid of human and lion.
I needed more time at the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities
Due to open towards the end of 2020, hopes are high that the new, $1 billion Grand Egyptian Museum will put Cairo firmly back on the tourist map, following a difficult few years in the wake of the 2011 revolution and several terrorist attacks. The impressive modernist glass construction – which will feature an earth-to-heaven viewing platform of the pyramids, is being heralded as the largest archaeological museum in the world.
I visit the current museum, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, an oasis of calm in the heart of the frenetic capital city. The red-hued building has a faded colonial charm and houses an incredible 120,000 artefacts. For an entrance price of just US $4, many of the rare treasures we’d expected to see inside the pyramids are on display here. This extends to the pharaohs themselves; many discovered in The Valley of The Kings, the world-renowned royal burial ground on the Nile’s west bank.
Egypt would make me fall in love with boat travel
I’ve never really ‘got’ cruising. Why would you want to be stuck on a ship for hours on end, wasting precious time to explore on land? However, when I jump onboard the Medea, my home for three days as I travel from Luxor to Aswan, that changes instantly.
It turns out to be the perfect way to explore the Nile and the treasures that line its west bank. I’ve lucked out with my accommodation: a cabin at the ship’s bow that offers 360º views.
Ploughing gently through the biblical waters, we see rural villages little changed by time. Oxen bask lazily in the midday heat and children play on the river banks, stopping to wave and squeal excitedly at the passing boats.