I have sat here in the desert for more than 4,000 years. I watched as Pharaoh Ahmose I expelled the dreaded Hyksos from the Nile. I saw the missionaries of Hatshetsup deliver her myrrh trees from the Land of Punt. Thutmose III forged his empire from the banks of the Euphrates to the fourth Nile waterfall in Nubia. Akhenaten married Nefertiti and smashed the gods of Egypt in favor of Aten, the sun disc. Tutenkhamen, born of the incest of Akhenaten and his sister, was pharaoh at age 9. He had an elongated skull, a cleft palette, suffered scoliosis and died of malaria in his 19th year but not before retrieving the banished gods. Ramesses the Great ruled for 66 years, brought peace with the Hittites, and lived to be so old his subjects thought his death would bring with it the end of the world. I cannot say the same for Hosni Mubarak.
So much for the pharaohs, always sleeping with their daughters, erecting mausoleums and having themselves mummified in the hopes of lingering as long as I have. Alexander the Great came here under the impression that he was the son of Zeus-Ammon rather than of a Macedonian polygamist named Philip. He died in Babylon at Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, 32 years old. I don’t remember if it was poison, malaria, typhoid fever, typhoid fever complicated by perforated bowels, meningitis, pyrogenic spondylitus, West Nile virus or just too many years of heavy drinking. It doesn’t much matter. All men wither and die. Even great dictators. And especially two-bit penny-ante dictators who survive by doing the bidding of their occidental masters. Which is why there’s not much point in clinging to power when all of Egypt rises up against you. Get out of the desert, retire to Switzerland. I’ve never been there myself, but Napoleon told me it was nice.
My favorite was always Cleopatra. I may be a wretched half-breed with the head of a man and the body of a lion, I may be built of stone and crumbling, and my nose may have fallen off centuries ago, but I still have eyes that can appreciate beauty. And Patty—that’s what I called her, she called me Inky—had so much more than just a pretty face. Her mellifluous voice, soft as a sand dune. Her wit, as pointed as a pyramid. But for Patty power was everything. And back then power meant Romans. She slipped into Caesar’s house and seduced him. Then of course there was Antony, doomed father of her twins. Today would she set her sights on an American and woo the uxorious Barack Obama? Or would she turn to the East for a consort whose nation’s growth is accelerating, like Hu Jintao?
Revolutions aren’t so special. It seems to me they happen all the time. A regime falls, and a frenzy of hope ensues. But after a while the streets empty and people go home to eat and sleep and love and lie. Soon enough a new order emerges and with it the same corrupt spirit that pervades all human affairs. Injustice persists in prisons, palaces and slums. Avarice gnaws where it may. But none of this lasts. Tyrants are again destroyed, and empires never fail to fall.
Here’s a riddle for you: What is red, white and blue and will someday be so much dust stuck to a tourist’s shoe?