March 19, 2012

The heart of Nasser’s Pyramids | Travel To Egypt Story 8

The heart of “Nasser’s Pyramids” is probably the Hilton Hotel. Nasser himself laid the foundation stone. The blue of the hotel makes it a focal point in a sea of yellowish buildings which reflect the colors of the desert. Whether or not it is because most Arabs live in a dry world of sand and dust that they thirst for water and vegetation, I am unable to judge, but Arabs must like blues and greens because those two colors predominate the flags of most Arab nations. Even when a blackout was imposed in Cairo, the color black was not used. Instead the headlights of cars and the windows of buildings were painted dark green or blue.

Egyptian Pyramids Tourism

Arabs have traditionally preferred dark colors, but recently buildings constructed in the Zamalek and Doqqi residential areas have sand-colored or white walls; hotel buildings may be painted a light blue. I can only assume this is the result of a change in aesthetic standards.
The Hilton Hotel faces the Nile, and the rooms on the western side, those with a view of the Great Pyramids, are known as the “Riverside Rooms.” They are slightly more expensive than the rooms overlooking Liberation Square on the east. When the hotel is being used for large political conferences, which is very frequently, other guests are quickly moved out.

During the September conference of Arab heads of state, who met in 1970 to try to resolve the civil war in Jordan, Gamal Abdel Nasser stayed on the twelfth floor of the hotel. According to a famous Egyptian journalist, Hassanein Heikal, Nasser is supposed to have remarked that it was like being housed in a barracks. Nevertheless, when the late President was ready for lunch he ordered only a Gruyere cheese sandwich. Heikal told Nasser that in his place he would have ordered smoked-salmon canapes and a dry martini. Nasser responded by asking him if he didn’t think that he would go to hell as punishment for drinking strong liquor. Although Islamic law forbids the drinking of alcohol, rules have relaxed a little and quite a variety of alcoholic beverages are produced in Egypt. But Islam’s rigid rules are still important, and I believe that Nasser was speaking from the bottom of his heart when he made the remark.

The conference successfully drew up a plan to end the conflict, but, just as the meeting was to close, on September 28 Nasser was stricken by a heart attack and died. Nasser was passionately fond of Gruyere cheese, but because cheese is high in fat, he had been forbidden to eat it by his doctor. The cheese sandwich that the reporter had slighted was the last delicacy Nasser enjoyed.

On the day of his funeral, Nasser’s body was transferred from the Revolutionary Council on Gezira Island, where he had lain in state, across Liberation Bridge and from there onto Corniche Road. The weight of the crowds who rushed down to touch the coffin was so great that there was a serious danger of the bridge collapsing. Nasser was buried in Nasser Mosque at Heliopolis, near the airport.

While he was alive, Nasser had said he wanted to present the people of Cairo with a new mosque, and one was designed and built according to his specifications. It is quite likely that he never imagined he would be laid to rest there and that the mosque would eventually be named after him. There are so many mosques in Cairo that more than 1,000 minarets reach up to the sky, but the Nasser Mosque has become established as one of the more popular sightseeing spots.

Religious precedent precludes foreign women from entering mosques without special permission. There is no argument that the position of women throughout the Islamic world is low. The Koran contains the statement: “Since God made men superior to women, men should rule women in all things.” As long as Muslims remain devoted in an unchanging way to the teachings of the Koran, there is no possibility of the positions of men and women becoming equal. This being so, women’s virtue is highly prized. As one female Egyptian sociologist says, “A woman’s virtue is valued for itself. Families always worry that their daughters might commit an indiscretion and bring shame to their house.”

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