Mark Steyn:

The Princess and the Brotherhood
For nine decades, Egypt has fled modernity.

For my part, I would bet Egypt’s fate will be largely driven by its fiscal ruin. Morsi is a good example of what happens when full-blown Islamic rule is put into effect in a country without the benefit of oil. He’s your go-to guy when it comes to ramping up the clitoridectomy rate, but he’s not so effective when it comes to jump-starting the economy. In February, the government advised the people to eat less and cut back the food subsidy to about 400 calories a day — which even Nanny Bloomberg might balk at. Amidst all the good news of the Morsi era — the collapse of Western tourism, the ethnic cleansing of Copts, the attacks on the Israeli embassy, sexual assaults on uncovered women, death for apostasy, etc. — amidst all these Morsi-era success stories, even a Muslim Brother has to eat occasionally. Egyptians learned the hard way that, whatever their cultural preferences, full-strength Islam comes at a price. Egypt has a wheat crisis, and a fuel crisis, and the World Food Program estimates that 40 percent of the population is suffering from “physical or mental” malnutrition. For purposes of comparison, when King Farouk was overthrown in 1952, Egypt and South Korea had more or less the same GDP per capita. Today Egypt’s is about one-eighth of South Korea’s.

I post this, not just because it’s well-written and depressing (and read the whole thing because the bits about the princess who died this week is very worth pointing out), but because I’ve been watching a lot of Poirot films (the David Suchet ones).

The last one I watched was Death on the Nile, and like all of Agatha Christie’s Middle Eastern adventures, it makes me long for the golden age of travel etc etc.

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes the golden age of travel was possible because of the exploitation of native populations by rich Western imperialists who were supported by armies of servants working all hours to make sure their every need was satisfied for little pay and zero health care (but hey, just look at the Rev Richard Cole (he previously of The Communards who’s now a rather entertaining CofE country vicar in a comfy-middle-aged relationship with another one)’s recent trip to a conference in Abu Dhabi in a six-star hotel where he had two dedicated servants who wrote him little greetings every day and artfully arranged his towels and slippers on their frequent visits to his room and I dunno how much they’re paid but unionized they probably ain’t).

But damnit it’s so expensive now! I mean, first you have to get there, and what with the price of jet fuel, but a nice hotel costs a thousand bucks a night, and a cheap hotel is never going to be a reliable option, eh? And of course now there’s the security risk of being an American in Cairo, and sorry gents but I don’t deal well with heat so covering myself in black crepe isn’t going to happen.

So, fine, I was born too late, I’ll never sail the Nile, I’ll never see the pyramids or the statues or anything else too large to go on a very occasional tour because they’re in Egypt and I can’t get to Egypt.

But! How long will they be in Egypt? Saudi Arabia’s been very systematically bulldozing ancient, untouched Mecca for years to replace it with shopping malls and luxury hotels for the pilgrims. Like, literally, imagine Japan bulldozing all the Heian-era parts of Kyoto to put in a Radisson. Oh but Egypt isn’t a religious destination like that! All we have to worry about is neglect and the Western museums and universities would’t let that happen! But ah, the Taliban pro-actively tank-shelled those Buddhas in the middle of Afghanistan where they weren’t exactly up in anyone’s business. The Chinese haven’t been particularly keen on keeping Tibet untouched as a reminder of a different time and culture. And then we have beautiful, ancient areas and historic mosques being used as battlegrounds in Syria, and the Turks used the Parthenon to store gunpowder, for crying out loud, in their little war, and look how that turned out.

Anyway my point is this: I can’t go there, not without being fabulously wealthy. And if I wait, there’s a very real chance it won’t be there later. Unless we move the whole thing (like all of Luxor, at least) to the British Museum (people are seriously suggesting doing so with Pompeii). So basically it’s just something else about the modern world to be depressed about.