Panaf: For a Dozen Days in 1969, Algiers was African

Wednesday, July 31, 2019 | Algiers, Algeria

Backstage: One of a series of atmospheric images captured by American photographer Robert Wade at the 1969 Panaf festival in Algiers, Algeria. (See full album here.)
"Muslims go to pilgrimage in Mecca, Christians go to the Vatican, and national liberation movements go to Algiers."

So said the hero of Guinea-Bissau's anti-colonial struggle, Amilcar Cabral, at a conference in the Algerian capital in 1968, when Algiers served as a haven and staging ground for rebels across Africa and beyond, from Nelson Mandela's ANC to freedom fighters from Angola, Mozambique, Palestine, Western Sahara, Zimbabwe, and more. Coming just six short years after Algeria's own hard-earned independence—which inspired anti-colonial dreams across the world—Cabral's pronouncement crystallized the city's reputation and lent Algiers a new moniker: "Mecca of the Revolutionaries." (For more on this era, watch Mohamed Ben Slama's insightful 2017 documentary of the same name.)

The next year, Algiers hosted an event that would further solidify that reputation: the Festival Panafricain d'Alger.

The Panaf took place 50 years ago this week, from July 21 to August 1, 1969, organized by the Algerian government under the aegis of the Organization of African Unity (predecessor to today's African Union). It was one of several high-profile, continent-wide cultural summits held during this period, each with its own flavor. And whatever the OAU's intentions might have been in selecting Algiers as

A Second Chance for Egypt, A Third Way for the Arab World

Sunday, July 28, 2019 | Cairo, Egypt

In downtown Cairo, a minaret casts a shadow on an apartment building housing an El-Ghad Party office.
This is the last in a six-part series on my 2017 trips to Egypt. Read previous entries here: "To Egypt, At Long Last", "Daily Life in Giza, Straight from the Horse's Mouth", "Cairo, Conqueror of Skeptics", "Ancient Egypt in the Modern World: Touring the Pyramids, Luxor, and Beyond", "The Nile: Egypt's Endangered Lifeblood".

Our trips to Egypt also gave me the chance to finally see firsthand the country about which I have spent so much time reading, discussing, and writing since the "Arab Spring" kicked off.

Back in early 2011, media across the world were filled with images of jubilant protesters in Tahrir Square. In Cairo six years later, I got to meet a few ordinary citizens who had been among those crowds. We shared a meal with Fadi and Huda (not their real names), middle-aged professionals whose children were young teenagers at the time of the revolution.

"Did you keep the kids at home?" I asked, when the conversation drifted toward the protest movement that had pushed out longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

"Not at all!" Huda exclaimed, "We were out in Tahrir Square, and we made sure to take them with us."

Huda recounted the story of how their son was spotted by the police while filming on his mobile phone. A cop snatched him, but Huda grabbed her son's leg and

The Nile: Egypt's Endangered Lifeblood

Tuesday, July 16, 2019 | Aswan, Egypt

The triangle-sailed felluca is an icon of the Egyptian Nile.
This is the fifth in a six-part series on my 2017 trips to Egypt. Read previous entries here: "To Egypt, At Long Last", "Daily Life in Giza, Straight from the Horse's Mouth", "Cairo, Conqueror of Skeptics", "Ancient Egypt in the Modern World: Touring the Pyramids, Luxor, and Beyond".

On the map, Egypt looks like a hefty yellow block, roughly as wide as it is long. But so central is the Nile River to life there that nearly all 99 million Egyptians live in just four percent of the country's land, within the two narrow ribbons of habitable green space that flank the Nile along its final 1,600 km course from the Sudanese border to the Mediterranean. (Because the river flows from south to north, geographic references are reversed, with "Upper Egypt" below "Lower Egypt" on the map.) Habitable points in the surrounding desert are few and far between.

The Nile has been the epicenter of Egypt's unusually one-dimensional, inverted geography for millennia. Traditionally, summer floods brought an influx of nutrient-rich waters from the Nile's source in central Africa each year, enabling the ancient Egyptians to plant the crops that sustained some of humanity's greatest empires. To set taxes each year, the pharaohs used specially designed "Nilometers" to measure the high-water mark of the annual floods; higher flood levels meant higher crop yields, and thus higher taxes. In Cairo, I visited the Nilometer at the southern tip of Rawda Island, descending narrow stairs down into a dark well past rings of discolored stone that marked long-ago flood waters.

The Nile doesn't flood anymore. Since 1970, with the completion of the Aswan

Ancient Egypt in the Modern World: Touring the Pyramids, Luxor, and Beyond

Saturday, July 13, 2019 | Luxor, Egypt

Visit the ruins of ancient Egypt and you might just come away with a new appreciation for what humans are capable of. I found the Karnak Temple's hall of mighty pillars, in Luxor, particularly mesmerizing.
This is the fourth in a six-part series on my 2017 trips to Egypt. Read previous entries here: "To Egypt, At Long Last", "Daily Life in Giza, Straight from the Horse's Mouth", "Cairo, Conqueror of Skeptics".

The Ancient

Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one—the Great Pyramid at Giza—still stands today, and it is a sight to behold.

At nearly 150 meters (500 feet) high, it dwarfs the adjacent pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure, though both are themselves staggeringly large, especially considering the modest tools available to their builders several millennia ago. The Great Pyramid was commissioned to memorialize the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops), who ruled in the 26th century BC. Cleopatra lived closer to us today than to the Great Pyramid's construction.

If you haven't seen it, it is hard to fathom the Great Pyramid's size until you get close enough to lay your hands directly upon its massive sun-baked granite and limestone blocks. (Many of the blocks were quarried hundreds of miles up the Nile River with nothing more than simple tools, then transported to Giza on barges.) The Great Pyramid alone contains enough stone to build a wall two feet high the entire way around Earth. Oh, and except for a few scattered stones tumbled in long-ago earthquakes, even today you can't mistake the impeccable quality of construction and precision of the design. Egypt's pyramids serve more as