From the time that flocks of Homo Sapiens left Africa through Egypt to conquer Planet Earth 70,000 years ago, the Nile Valley has been numerous times in the right place, at the right time of civilization. 12,000 years ago, Egypt was touched by fortune when the Asian neighbours of the Fertile Crescent invented agriculture, enabling Egyptians to cultivate its territory with wheat, barley, and other local plants that have continued to form 80% of the current diet of most of the inhabitants of earth today.
At that time, the Valley of the Nile was the best place to accumulate surpluses of the newly discovered agriculture, a revolution of the Neolithic period that made us sedentary. No other people of antiquity produced as much surplus as Egyptian farmers, however, unable to reinvest them, they squandered it all on impressive stone monuments. In economic terms, the lost opportunity of not reinvesting agricultural surpluses in a more lucrative way has been enormous, resulting in Egypt l forever losing the advantage they had over other historical civilizations. It’s likely though that in ideological terms, the opportunity cost has been even greater. It may well be that the inability of most Egyptians to understand the idea of progress, and to cling to history as though it was a zero-sum game, is due, in part, to this grandiose error to squander.
History continued giving gifts to Egypt, when the founding of Alexandria by Alexander the Great, in 332 BC, created a Greco-Roman metropolis and the capital of the ancient world for 900 years, until the Muslim conquest. In 1869, the home of the Nile was given another great historical opportunity when Fernando de Lesseps and France were determined to open the Suez Canal, looking to connect Europe and Asia in the shortest and cheapest way possible. Since then, Egypt has survived on three of history’s gifts; the waters that are sent down annually from Ethiopia through the Blue Nile, the taxes imposed on international maritime traffic to use the Suez Canal, and the luck of history, which propitiated the wasteful monuments of the zoolatry pharaohs and the even more idolatrous Hellenistic culture.
The demographic transition (high birth rates and low infant mortality rates), along with accelerated urbanization, have been managed by an independent Egypt since 1922. The 95 million impoverished Egyptians of 2018 are the result of a population explosion that has been dreadfully managed by religious organizations, both Muslim and Coptic, and large masses of very religious people, who, in general, look to the past. For its part, the Egyptian political elite have generally focused more on holding on to power than to seeking a medium-term solution to the country's great challenges.
Since its independence in 1922, governments around the world have acknowledged the central role that Egypt plays as a crossroad of trade routes and a leader of the Arab world. In particular, President Hosni Mubarak, since his accession to the country's leadership in 1981, has been seen as the prototype of a good guy for many Western governments. In 1985, Felipe González, the president of the first leftist Spanish government, had the brilliant political idea of presenting the Dictator with the Order of Isabella the Catholic. This politically grotesque act was repeated in 2009 when José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero presented Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the so-called Alliance of Civilizations.
The Committee responsible for awarding the Nobel Prize for literature also turned to Egypt in 1988, considering it time to award an Arab writer for the first time in history. And it chose an Egyptian, one who was particularly close to power, Naguib Mahfuz. A Nobel prize for the Arab world could not have been granted, for example, to Mohamed Chucri, a Moroccan as original as he is an outlier of Arabity and political power; nor the brilliant author of the Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell, who would have been an ideal candidate for an Arabic Nobel Prize, given his cosmopolitanism and his fondness for stories with Coptic politicians and Jewish heroines.
Few countries on Earth have been privileged with as many strategic advantages throughout the history of civilization as Egypt has, and few have squandered them with the same vigour. In 2018, the balance of the independent Egyptian state is downright depressing. The 95 million Egyptians are responsible for a Gross Domestic Product of 335,000 million dollars - a misery compared to the 880,000 million dollars Apple is worth, achieved by less than 200,000 employees. The comparison is not casual. Apple and large technology companies are implementing industries in which Artificial Intelligence is achieving better results than human employees. What future awaits a hundred million Egyptians, obsolete from a labour point of view, when the machines exceed in efficiency? Sweeping the streets of Europe?
The Blue Nile, which supplies 86% of the water entering the Aswan Dam, will feed into another gigantic dam upstream in Ethiopia, most likely from 2018, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, three times larger than the Egyptian one. The operation of this reservoir alone could mean the loss of up to 50% of the arable land in Egypt. And this is likely to be just the beginning, as many Central African countries (Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi), with strong economic growth and ambitious projects to build dams and hydroelectric power stations on the White Nile and the Blue Nile, are on the road to lifting their populations out of poverty, to consuming such a quantity of water in the future that they could ruin agriculture downstream.
Egyptians' problem is not the environmental disaster that they are causing to the Nile basin; it’s not the generalized corruption of the Army that has been converted into an economic power within the state, nor the repressive police state that Abdelfata Al -Sisi has turned into; it’s not even the real threat of running out of a large part of the Nile’s water. What is a real threat to Egypt is what surveys like that of the Pew Research Centre of 2010 reveal, (http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2010/12/Pew-Global-Attitudes-Muslim-Report-FINAL-December-2-2010.pdf), the 80% of the Egyptian Muslim population that is in support of corporal punishment (stoning, amputation and death) for crimes of adultery, robbery and apostasy. Despite the detail in his descriptions, Naguib Mahfuz avoided to include this perspective of the inhabitants of the Alley of Miracles.