Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’



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Sorry, the story continues in Almost Aesop, Fables available through Amazon.com-b


Aesop Fables Updated :swallowing more than one can chew

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Ferdinand Marie, Vicomte de Lesseps (1805 – 1894) French

Engineer, diplomat


The Suez Canal owes its birth to the vision and courage of De Lesseps and by his achievement he brought the Far East nearer to the West. Few men have achieved as he did in face of such over whelming odds and few men with such a record of success have died in such poverty and disgrace.


Born on November 19, 1805 at Versailles, he followed the family tradition as he entered the consular service in 1825. It was on his way to Alexandria that he first got the idea of building Suez Canal. It was also a stroke of luck to become friendly with Mohammed Said, son of Mohamet Ali, the great ruler of Egypt. After more than twenty years when Mohammed Said became the ruler De Lesseps was invited to visit him at Alexandria. He arrived there on November 7, 1854. His personality and persuasion finally convinced Said Pasha that he agreed for the project Suez Canal. What followed was a sordid diplomatic intrigue to scuttle the whole project. England’s Palmerston, told De Lesseps he regarded the Canal as a French attempt to interfere in the East and was ready to move heaven and earth to stop the Canal being built. Palmerston’s government tried to bring the Sultan of Turkey as overlord of Egypt to their side. De Lesseps however went ahead with the project. The rights were obtained and a company was floated in Paris and on April 25, 1859 the first blow of the axe was given by De Lesseps at Port Suez. When Said died in 1863, Ismail, who succeeded him, caused him much uneasiness. Largely through the efforts of Britain, the practise of using forced labor was stopped. At the outset it had been estimated that 8,000 men would be needed. Soon it swelled to a number of 40,000  and at one time there were as many as eighty thousand at work, the bulk of these wielders of pick and spade were Egyptian Fellaheen. For two years the work was held up: As forced labour was discontinued De Lesseps decided to go ahead with the project using machinery. At last, on November 16, 1869 the Canal was formally opened.

Shortly thereafter ships of all nations were sailing through the Canal; for the Canal shortened the voyage from London to Bombay by five thousand miles. What was Britain’s fears were laid at rest when Disraeli in one of the briliant coups got control of the Canal.

If De Lesseps had stopped with the suez Canal he might have passed his last years in happiness instead of disgrace. When the Geographical Society of Paris decided in 1879 to construct the Panama Canal, De Lesseps was designated head of the enterprise. Work was begun in 1881 and went on for eight years during which about 50,000 lives were lost through malaria and yellow fever.

De Lesseps now old and confined to Paris, most of the time did not have complete grip of the problems facing the company. Besides his project was at fault. He had determined to build the canal without locks, against the advice of his engineers who concluded that the Culebra and the Chagres, the mountain and river that barred his path, could not be overcome in any other way. In 1888 the company went bankrupt for £ 80,000,000. It was estimated only one third was spent on the canal, one third wasted and one third stolen. Thousands of investors were ruined.

In the face of a full-blown scandal the French government was forced to institute an enquiry. De Lesseps was sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined; but the sentence was suspended. He died on December 7, 1894 in his ninetieth year.
In not so distant future one might think a new shipping lane cutting through North West will obviate the importance of Suez Canal. From Far East vessels will cut through Arctic circle taking advantage of melting ice.

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I am not a political person. But I have spent lifetime trying to understand people who assume power. They are not a law unto themselves but victim of larger forces that sweep them to power. I have also seen the same waves throwing them down. Their end often is more violent than the cheers that had hailed their assumption of power. The large forces that swept Hosni Mubarak hold a far greater power that is not yet fully expressed. The man on the street risked death and torture because democratic rule of law is what he requires. In the manner Mohammad Mursi has made himself a dictator by special decree is a foolhardy move. There is no external threat and the timing also is curious.
Islam is fine but has it ever made the lives of ordinary people better? It is true Koran enjoins faithfuls to give alms. There is also a tax in force that the affluent should pay. But giving alms is a correction and should not come as the state policy. More dignified course would be to give the people incentive to get rich and governments should create conditions for them. Period. Giving half a loaf of bread and a chain on their necks as was practiced lately did not work in Yemen,Libya or in Egypt. Modern history shows how badly it has treated people. There is no point in blaming the west for their failures. The Arab Spring was a step in the right direction. But Tunisia shows old habits never die. Now Egypt is by stealth hijacked by a false belief.This belief always comes into the thoughts of the one who makes himself a dictator. Hosni Mubarak thought brute force will work. Now Mursi seems to think people’s aspirations can be shortchanged by a decree! Good Governance is not by learning some Prophet’s words by rote. It is by careful consideration of the times and selfless search into the will of people and learning to work with it, if not change it. Rulers are set there to show them how best it can be done. In the olden days of Haroun al-Raschid he was known to go in mufti to find out the mood of the people. In the heyday of Mughal rule in India as well as other places the exalted king knew their obligations to the people. One of the way the ruler established his power was in the way he held public audience and the lowest of the low could approach him and plead their case. Much of the harm was done when this access was stopped.
Instead of this nowadays we have spin-doctors and the bureaucrats who govern in the name of the President are often a bottle neck than help. They and their vested interests create their own clique and more often than not these extra-constitutional groups mislead their chief. Lifting the poor to affluence or meeting their aspirations by giving them all an equal chance is a bitter pill. The man in charge must work hard to understand for himself what people thinks. Mursi has chosen to go along the path of dictators of the ilks of Gaddafi, Mubarak, Saddam.
I dare to say give some five months and you shall see a change of government in Egypt. All that group wave of democratic aspirations still held in reserve must merge and curl and break. 150 days must be required. Mursi will prove to be another King Canute and ruefully realize the sea of people is no respecter of fools.
A correction: It took seven months instead of five and it is the military and not people power which brought him down. Things may drag some more time without a clear resolution. The writ is clear and shall not change. The religious fundamentalism will be a millstone around the aspirations and the times.

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Camel driver: “Can’t you just get up from this fundamentalist mess and go?”

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