Tag Archives: Egypt

Looking at History through US Foreign Military Sales

If an alien came to Earth and had to quickly make sense of the last half century of History, he could get a first glimpse of geographical hot spots and changes of regime by looking at US Foreign Military Sales program data (please refer to my previous post for an explanation of the program and sources of data).

For example, take the figure below. It shows the historical data of FMS deliveries (in thousands of $) from 1970 to 2010. As you can see deliveries stopped in 1980. What is even more telling, in the 4 years to 1979 (from 1976-79) the arms sales delivered to this country represented a whole 34% of the complete US FMS program over that period (see the total volume of deliveries in this graphic from a previous post). Which country do you think it coud be?

Which country could this be?

This alien, combining these data would know that something that happened in that country, from representing a third of military sales to not taking part in the program ever again… you may have guessed right: Iran, where the Islamic Revolution started in 1978, the Shah left the country in 1979 and at the end of that year the hostage crisis started.

Having taken a look at the graphic of Iran, find below the one for Iraq:


In the graphic you can see that from 1970 to 2005 there were not FMS agreements and deliveries from 2006. Nevertheless you can see that during the 1970’s and 1980’s there were commercial arms sales to Iraq from American contractors (this is also published by DSCA), which deliveries stopped altogether in 1990 (invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and subsequent first Gulf war). Then, once the second Gulf war had changed the regime, commercial and FMS sales restarted from 2003.

There are plenty of cases to look at: Cuba not forming part of FMS since before 1970, Russia neither (though receiving commercial arms since 1992), Spain having been always part of FMS program (including during dictator Franco’s time) but which agreements surged in 1982 with the order of 72 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 fighters (the same year in which it joined NATO), Chile, Venezuela, China

Russia: never part of FMS.

Before concluding this post let me show again the distribution of FMS deliveries during the last 60 years per region (shown in the previous post) and a table with the main receivers in each region:

FMS Sales per region (1950-2010, source: DSCA).

FMS Agreements per region and selected countries (1950-2010, in k$ – source: DSCA).

Which have been then the top receivers of FMS Arms sales agreements in the period 1950-2010? In order:

  1. Saudi Arabia (16.9% of global FMS program)
  2. Egypt (7.3%)
  3. Israel (7.1%)
  4. Australia (4.1%)
  5. Korea (South) (4.0%)
  6. United Kingdom (4.0%)
  7. Turkey (4.0%)
  8. Japan (3.7%)
  9. Germany (3.3%)
  10. Greece (2.7%)

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A reflection on Stonehenge & Machu Picchu

I remember that during our trip to Peru in 2009, we used to hear a great many positive things from tourist guides about the Incas, or better the people of the Tawantinsuyu Empire (the Inca being just the king of the empire).

The guides used to praise their mastery in agriculture, astronomy, architecture, engineering and many other disciplines. While that civilization reached certain degree of advancement and the wonder in Machu Picchu site gives account of that, I had the parallel thought while being there that at the same time in Europe big cathedrals were being built full of arcs, domes, Leonardo da Vinci was diving into all kind of sciences, etc. The roofs in buildings at Machu Picchu were made of wood, there were not stone arcs or domes, and that is why today you cannot see trace of them.

During our last trip to England, I had a similar experience while visiting Stonehenge. The guides praised this site as being the most important prehistoric construction in Europe, which may be true, but then again I couldn’t avoid thinking of the pyramids at Giza, which we visited about a year ago.

I am no historian, thus take my next reflection as what it is: a reflection of a tourist :-).

I guess this can be seen as positive outcome of globalization understood as “global relationships of culture, people and economic activity”. I guess that by the year 2,500 B.C. the trade between different regions was much smaller than today and less exchanges of cultural and architecture best practices took place: thus you could have about at the same time the pyramids being built in Egypt while the stones at Stonehenge being put up, both being the state of the art in each place.

About 4,000 years later, the state of the art in construction building we can say that was harmonized between Middle East, Northern Africa and the whole of Europe, including the islands, and you had for example the Cathedral of Salisbury just few miles from Stonehenge being built around 1,250 A.D. , two centuries before Machu Picchu was built in a continent not yet affected by such globalization.

This reflection just related to architecture. Think of all other types of exchanges that take place from agriculture to medicine, sciences and arts… so much for the goodness of globalization.

Some pictures taken in those four sites:

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The British Museum

During the last trip to the United Kingdom I visited for the first time The British Museum (free). The museum itself is without any doubt amazing.

However I had conflicting ideas of whether the breadth of pieces mostly coming from other countries should have been better displayed at a museum in the country of origin or there in London.

I found it curious that the museum has a dedicated brochure explaining why the collection of Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon is hosted in London instead of Athens as the Greek Ministry of Culture claims they should be. The British Museum claims that the pieces were taken with permission of the then authority of those territories: the Ottoman Empire. It also gives account of an internal investigation carried by the Parliament. And even points at other 6 museums around the world hosting sculptures from the Parthenon as if trying to divert the attention.

The museum’s brochure concludes that the taking of the pieces was legal and its location in London is good as it believes the museum is a unique resource for the world, but offers the reader to check the counter opinion at the Greek ministry’s site.

I still haven’t made my mind yet: is it the World’s looting museum or most of the pieces are better off being conserved there that they would be in Greece, Egypt, Syria or elsewhere?

To end the discussion I found it comical that in order to introduce Stonehenge to the museum’s visitors a poster of it was deemed enough. In this case it wasn’t necessary to bring one or two stones from the site, as has been the case with pieces from many other places.

Besides that discussion I enjoyed seeing some items missing in previous trips. Find some pictures of some of the museum highlights below:

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A guesstimate about Egypt

Very often when we are with the family dining over the table and someone comments on any topic, you’ll hear my father say “give me a number… come on, you should be able to tell me an order of magnitude”. This is what is called a “guesstimate”, from the Wikipedia:

“Guesstimate is an informal English word derived from guess and estimate, first used by American statisticians in 1934 or 1935. It is defined as an estimate made without using adequate or complete information, or, more strongly, as an estimate arrived at by guesswork or conjecture.”

In this post I just wanted to share a “number”, a guesstimate, I worked while in Egypt.

When we left our stuff in the cruise boat, Luca and I were told by our guide that there were 300 such boats cruising the Nile. We certainly could appreciate that there were many in the harbour, and later we could see the traffic through the river. On one of the conversations we started to build our guesstimate: Can we guess how many tourists come to Egypt every year? If there are 300 boats at any moment, if in our boat there are 21 + 19 + 10 double rooms, if… if…

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Here it is:

  • 300 boats at any moment in the Nile.
  • If our boat was the average boat size: 50 double rooms, thus 100 tourists per boat.
  • If 90% occupancy rate was the average during high season (4 months?); 70% during low season (8 months).
  • If 4 days was the average stay of tourists in the boat:
    • This is 30 rotations during high season; 60 rotations during low season
  • Assuming that 50% of tourists don’t go to Luxor & Aswan, just stay in Cairo, Alexandria, Sharm el-Sheikh…
  • Assuming that of the remaining 50% that go to Luxor, 30% connect between cities in other modes of transport different from boat (plane, bus, taxi, train…)

My guess is that there would be ~ 6 million visitors to Egypt every year.

Later on, I checked with Wikipedia rankings, and the real figure is about 12 million… so my guess is just 50% of the total… way far, sure, but in the order of magnitude, thus I’m quite happy with it.

You never know, maybe the input of the 300 boats was wrong; it could be that there are really 600 boats and my guess would have been just correct! (Please, if you find out that there are indeed around 600 cruise boats in the Nile, let me know ;-))


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Big Mac in Aswan

While in Aswan, Egypt, I went to a McDonald’s restaurant. When I finished my meal I went to the counter to ask “What is the price of a single Big Mac?”, “16.5 Egyptian pounds”.

I wanted to check The Economist‘s Big Mac index, their exchange-rate scorecard (see a detailed explanation), for the case of Egypt.

Already in the last list published it can be seen that they used a 13.0 pound price, while I was given 16.5 pound (probably because I went to a more touristic McD restaurant than the average). At the time of writing the post the exchange rate is: 1 E£ = 0.1726 US$.

The reference is always the price of the hamburger in USA (average of Atlanta, Chicago, New York and San Francisco), which in the latest publication of the index was 3.73$.

The dollar cost at the exchange rate of the hamburger was 2.848$; according to that, the Egyptian pound is 24% undervalued against the dollar (in relation to Aswan prices). The Economist normally calculates as well the implied purchasing power parity of the dollar: 4.42 (=16.5/3.73) while the actual exchange rate was 5.79 (=1/0.1726).

Finally, I wanted to remark 3 other things that caught my attention in the restaurant:

  • They had an employee of the month award and published it.
  • The uniform of the global company made local.
  • They provided delivery service… I wish they did that in Europe.

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There is no doubt that archaeologists have done and continue to do a great and exhaustive work in Egypt… (yes, there is a “but” coming) But, while visiting several temples last week, I really got sick of seeing their signature in the middle of the statues, walls, hieroglyphics, etc…

Signatures from archaeologists ar various sites in Egypt.

Can you imagine that a conservator / restaurateur from the Louvre museum had just signed in the middle of La Gioconda while performing some work on the painting? Like: “L. Bernard, 1835” in the cheek or the forehead, where there is plenty of space.

I want to think that this was the norm in XIX and early XX century and that nowadays it is not happening, otherwise: archaeologists, please refrain from doing that!

As Luca put it: these were people who failed to understand their place in history. After all, to the general public Lecaros, Black, Hamdy Bey, Federici, Levinge, etc., are completely unknown names (luckily! imagine how many of their signatures and in what places would have been needed for them to be stars!).

Having said that… who knows, maybe around the year 5,464 someone visiting these places may find a plaque honouring these signatures, like the one that can be seen today in Saqqara outlining the first “graffiti” in history, yet another inscription from another archaeologist in the year 1,232 BC, Hadnakhte, who wrote, on the wall of an already then 1,500 years old building, the following: “on a pleasure trip west of Memphis”.

Hadnakhte's graffiti in the House of the South, Saqqara.


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The first bloggers

I found while visiting some tombs in the Valley of the Kings and temples in Luxor that the Egyptian pharaohs were the first bloggers.

There are paintings older than the hieroglyphics from Egypt but, unless I am mistaken, we don’t know whether they just capture scenes of daily life/gods or relate to the story of a single individual (and in if that was the case, who is he?).

In the case of the pharaohs, they inscribed (or those working for them) in the walls and columns what had happened to the pharaoh in his life, apart from stories related to gods. Some months later or the next year they would come back and update it with the latest achievements (wars, victories, offers to different gods…).

Luckily, today we can just store our storyline (or whatever we may want to write about) in the internet and save ourselves the effort of gathering up to 134 columns as in the Great Hypostyle Hall in Karnak, Luxor (larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London together – some pictures below).

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Special assistance vs. free ride

This morning, at Cairo airport I found something I hadn’t seen since 2007 when I went to Moscow sometimes: passion for wheelchairs.

During the last week in Egypt, Luca and I have seen just 2 wheelchairs (in fact, she saw 2, I can only recall having seen one at Giza).

How many thousands of people we may have seen during this week? 1,000, 2,000, 10,000? No idea. But having been all day in the streets, museums, temples, etc., where there were crowds, I guess they were many. Let me use 2-3 thousands for simplification.

I know, this may be not a statistically relevant sample, but let me say there is a user of wheelchair per 1,000 inhabitants (there may be published stats on this out there; I didn’t check).

As you know, airline companies offer special assistance to get on board their aircraft. Yesterday, we found at the boarding gate 10 wheelchairs. We flew aboard a B777-200 with no more than 50-60% seats occupied, about 200-250 passengers. That is, 4-5% of passengers required special assistance in the form of a wheelchair.

As, I said, these are not statistically relevant samples, but these numbers bring to me some (provocative) thoughts:

  • At the airport we found 50 times more wheelchairs than in the outside world! That is what I call passion for them.
  • What is it so attractive in wheelchairs at airports? It’s a free ride (some body actually pushes it!), you get to avoid long queues and board first
  • Why don’t they all use wheelchair outside the airport? Nobody pushes it! The fact that streets and facilities are not adequately prepared might be a deterrent as well (just for people who can walk despite some difficulty).
  • It could happen that those flying are not the ones we found in touristic places and streets in Egypt… however, the factor of 50 is strikingly high to be explained only because of that, plus it would be strange for them to venture taking international flights and not wandering through the city.

Having said that, I’m totally in favour that this special assistance is provided because there will always be people who do need it. I wrote this post just out of surprise of seeing a queue of 10 wheelchairs, something I hadn’t seen in 3 years.


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On top of my gift list

The other question I liked about this week’s Plinky email was:

“What’s at the top of your gift wish list right now?”

Normally I would almost always say “a trip, a holiday trip”. Since I have just moved to France, I came here 3 times in the last 3 weeks; I have been in Poland, Barcelona and The Netherlands in the last month as well… what do you think I would ask for?

Yes, yet another holiday trip: to refresh my mind, get a good pack of unforgettable moments, discover new places, etc… and the nice thing about this is: that I will get it! Right now a friend, my partner and I will go to Egypt for a week…

“À bientôt, Toulouse!”

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