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The Middle East – Five Extremes
The Middle East contains so many secrets and explanations of history that any prepared visit fascinates me. It also always strikes me as a region of remarkable contrasts, here are the ‘big five’ I have observed.
The Very Rich and the Very Poor
Ancient wealth and modern wealth, the region has them both. From the Pharaohs of Egypt who built monumental structures and Temples to todays oil and financial services so visible and ostentatious in the Gulf States. Just look at the modern day skyscraper Temples in Dubai. Unlike the wealthy the poor seldom have monuments and magnificent tombs to remember them by, as their existence was always in the temporary and insubstantial structures. Their lives lived in the fields or the factories of others. Don’t ignore the mass poor housing complexes in the metropolis of places like Cairo and when traveling in the Sinai or Jordan make sure you enquire about the tents and villages you pass, that perhaps house marginalized Bedouin, amongst others.
Hot and Cold
Its obvious. The deserts, so much region defining, get very hot! Yet the temperature, at certain times of the year will plummet under the normally clear skies.
The Magnificent and The Mundane
The stark magnificence of the Sinai Mountains, the beauty of Petra, the grandeur of some of the buildings old and new, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dahbi for example. Deserts and sand dunes are things of wonder, but do not get carried away, much of ‘the desert’ is stony, dry, baron and vast.
The Learned and the not so
Egypt, typified by the Bibliotheca of Alexandria (you can visit the new Library on the site of the original) has long, with places like Istanbul, been a home of scholars and the advancement of early science. Look out for surgeon’s diagram as your Egyptologist explains how early Egyptians were doing medical operations long before anywhere else. Today great education is available at the schools and universities of the Middle East. However, this is not available for all and in some cases it has been used to create division, hate and to re-ignite long standing issues. In my view this, along with some hopeless poverty, is a root cause of the various conflicts.
The Love and The Hate
I am regularly overwhelmed by the welcome, kindness, generosity and interest of so many to me and my family (I’m British, American, European, Christian…. and white). One learns how Islam teaches about looking after the poor and guests. At the same time, one observes the hate in parts of the region and amongst segments of society. The historic causes are manifest and complex – and misunderstood, oversimplified by many outsiders.