• 22 . 04 . 11
  • In which one sleepless night follows another, after unrest causes a wrinkle to our travel plans.

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Train Of Events

The Egyptians really have learned to say no, and it had a material impact on our journey for the first time today. Or was it yesterday? Is it tomorrow already? After approximately 36 hours awake with only brief snatches of sleep, I’m not really sure. The night bus back from Siwa was harder than the one going there, despite it leaving at the same time, travelling the same distance and taking the same time – apparently West to East really is worse, regardless of the mode of transport.

Arriving back at our hotel at about 6am after ten sleepless hours spent listening to Arabic music – I like world music, but not at 4am – we managed to grab only a little shut-eye before we were informed by the hotel staff that our train tonight/last night had been cancelled. I’d been looking forward to taking the overnight train down south, tracing the Nile as it wound its way down the country, but that was no longer an option. Protestors in Qena, a small town just North of Luxor, unhappy at the choice of the new governor and flushed with success at having already ousted Mubarak had decided they weren’t going to take it lying down. Their method of direct action: lying down. On the train tracks. Over which all Cairo-Luxor trains have to pass.

Cue a few frantic hours for which we were totally unprepared, figuring out what best to do. Normally, we would just hole up, rearrange our schedule and maybe head to Alexandria for a couple of days, but on this leg of the trip we have the Luxor to Aswan cruise which is a particularly immovable feast. Our only feasible alternative within a reasonable budget was to fly, an altogether more anodyne experience made even more unpalatable by the 5am departure time. Worse news was to follow. Our hotel staff were being more than accommodating, but the room wasn’t available past 8pm, so we were looking at hanging out in the lobby until 1:30am until we had to head to the airport.

Fast-forward to now, 8am though it doesn’t feel like it, and finally in a hotel room in Luxor. I feel too tired to sleep. I’m glad the impending cruise includes visits to all the major sights, because today is pretty much going to be a write-off.

The unrest in Qena has been portrayed in the media as due to the new governor being a Coptic Christian, but according to the people I’ve spoken to here it is because he was a major in Mubarak’s police force responsible for serious repression in and around Giza. They are determined to make an entirely clean break with the past. Regardless of their support in principle for the removal of the governor, denizens of Luxor, many of whom rely on tourism for their livelihoods, are less than happy with these new protests. For the first time it was possible to detect actual anger. With tourist numbers at about 20% of normal levels, any further disruption and the negative press it attracts will only further delay the time where they can go back to making a decent living. With a form of protest that doesn’t affect the protestors personally – the town has very little in the way of tourism itself – but is sure to get the attention of the interim government, the residents of Qena have found an effective protest method which I’m pretty certain will see their demands met within a few days.

It will be interesting to see how the country copes in the future when one section of society holds another hostage, especially in a land that has become conditioned over the last 30 years to the resolution of disputes and dissent through violence.