We fly from Amman airport to Cairo.
The route is shown on an overhead video display,
and we see that the plane must fly straight south
to get past the southern corner of Israel, and then fly east-northeast
to get to Cairo.
The video also occasionally shows the airplane's orientation towards
Approaching Cairo we see mile after mile of blocks of
concrete apartment buildings,
all 10 to 15 stories in height, without a tree or even a blade of grass
visible. Cairo has an official population of about 19 million, but
many estimates run much higher.
After landing we are met by a guide and a security officer, who
accompanies us to our hotel.
Our hotel is the Gezirah Sheraton,
a late-sixties style tower on the southern tip of
There is a metal detector at the entrance, and security guards
outside use mirrors on poles to inspect the undersides of
(Security will be an inescapable presence throughout our stay in
Our room has a magnificent view, and is very comfortable although
From the bar on the 23rd floor of the hotel, we can see the pyramids
In the late afternoon we drive through terrible traffic to our next
In the Midan Tahrir traffic circle, one man washes his car while
waiting for traffic to move.
At 6:00 we arrive for a "round table discussion" at the
Young Muslim Association.
A huge banner over the door announces
"Religious Dialogue" in Arabic.
This exhausting experience finally ends
at 10:00 pm. We have been here since 6:00, with no lunch, one
power bar in mid-afternoon, and no dinner. We are exhausted, and
we go find perhaps the only awful restaurant on the whole trip.
We ride to a large complex of lavish new buildings, looking much like
We are ushered to an office where we meet
Dr. Ahmad Al Tayeb, the Grand Mufti of Egypt.
We then travel to Al Azhar University, the oldest University in the world,
founded in 970 AD.
We are ushered to the
Office of the President of Al Azhar University
for an interesting and sometimes depressing discussion.
We then go to the old market, and some of us also visit Al Azhar mosque.
We visit the National Museum. This is an amazing place, with
priceless treasures housed in dusty cases with yellowing typed labels.
The King Tut exhibit alone is staggering.
We then walk a short distance to
the General Secretariat of the League of Arab
States, a lovely building near the National Museum.
We meet with the
Department of the League of Arab States.
Next, we arrive at Cairo University at 1:45 PM.
Here we meet with the
Cairo University Dialogue of Civilizations Group.
Around 6:30 PM we take a long ride to the Maadi district, a
The neighborhood has many security checkpoints with armed guards.
We reach the home of
Cultural Attaché of the American Embassy.
She gives a party in our honor, and it is attended by
many Egyptian academics and intellectuals.
The next day we spend in Alexandria, particularly visiting the newly
Our meeting with the Head Librarian is cancelled, but we are
relieved rather than disappointed.
On our last day in Egypt
we visit the pyramids at Saqqara, and then the pyramids at Giza.
We then visit the old market again.
Far into it, away from the tourist area, we find an old man
with very bad teeth selling peanuts from a small cart.
When we tell him that we're American, he beams.
He loves America, he loves Jimmy Carter, says that I am a very lucky man,
that California is very warm. He presses candy and peanut
samples on us. His warmth seems genuine and we are grateful.
We also visit the Pyramids and the Sphinx.
The Sphinx looks towards a parking lot and a row of shops.
In front of the Sphinx, workmen are setting up
for an upcoming motorcycle race.