Four Days in Cairo

By Chris Mooney | July 6, 2011 9:28 am

I’m back in the U.S.–a tad disoriented, but back. Jon and Jamie have done a great job blogging in my absence, and today I will seek to get back in the swing.

It will be slightly hard, though, as I’m still taking in my first experience of the Middle East. Doha, Qatar reminded me a lot of Las Vegas, only hotter and much less interested in its visitors having fun (e.g., it is nearly impossible to find a beer there unless you are at an American hotel). You spend your time inside consuming vast amounts of air conditioning, and trying to imagine just how much water it takes to fuel the artificial lawns outside the window. The thing that most struck me was the oxymoron (no longer) of standing outside in a hot wind.

The more amazing experience was post-revolution Cairo. Many foreign tourists are unreasonably terrified of the place–due in part to media coverage of riots and protests–and their absence has damaged the economy. In fact, it’s a very safe place to visit–unless, perhaps, you deliberately stand in the middle of a protest in Tahrir Square (my picture above is of a burned building there). And the people are wonderful–even when they’re pushing you to buy something, a phenomenon we encountered in a rather extreme form, since we were among the few tourists around.

We were there–myself and science journalists Deborah Blum, David Dobbs, Beryl Lieff Benderly and Curtis Brainard–for a workshop, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, with our Egyptian media counterparts. We went in wrongly assuming that they were more focused on politics and didn’t know a great deal about science journalism, and were very surprised–the participants were quite sophisticated about the challenges of our field and very dedicated to covering public health and the environment (the Nile Delta, in particular, is greatly threatened by sea level rise).

The result was a wonderful exchange that I hope can continue–as frankly, I had at least as much to learn from them as they had to learn from me.  In the meantime, we have to watch Egypt closely as the search for post-revolution stability moves forward–and hope that science and research will play a central role in a long-term economic recovery.

Caltech Nobel Laureate chemist Ahmed Zewail (sometimes mentioned as a possibility for Egypt’s first Democratic president) has founded a “Science City” to that end–a project that was endorsed by the Mubarak government but has only gotten traction since the Revolution. I sincerely hope this mega-initiative succeeds: It’s precisely the kind of innovation that will set the groundwork for a future democratic, and economically progressive Egypt.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Personal

Comments (4)

Links to this Post

  1. Not Green Data: Science Journalism Workshop | July 6, 2011
  1. A nice quick wrap of this, Chris; I feel pretty much the same way about all of it. Hope to post a few thoughts soon on this myself, especially the workshop and the stunning and moving visit to Tahrir Square.

    In the meantime, folks, I’ll say this: I don’t think there’s ever been a BETTER time to visit Egypt. Few other tourists; a world of treasures — the Egyptian Museum is truly one of the world’s wonders (not to mention the pyramids, the Nile, etc); and an incredibly interesting time, with everyone thinking and pondering the future of a country and culture that’s existed, in essence, for millenia. And especially if you hire a car and guide, which costs about what a good meal does, you will be quite safe.

  2. Chris Mooney

    Thanks David. A strong second. Unfortunately, what has been bad for the country–economic contraction and devaluation of currency–tends to benefit the tourist right now.

  3. Beryl Benderly

    Ditto to what David said. Chris has caught the flavor of our visit, and the city is a tourist’s paradise at the moment, with the justly celebrate sites almost devoid of visitors and the local people very friendly, polite and well-disposed to Americans nonetheless.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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