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Running from the Pharaohs open tomb
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My brother is booked to fly to Cairo this Monday.   Having flown out from Seattle Thursday night for Amsterdam, he’d originally looked forward to an Egyptian stop-over en route to his mission in Kenya.  “I was hoping to spend a week or so on retreat in a Coptic monastery,” he lamented from the airport just before boarding… “I hope they’ll let me change my itinerary.”

Well, we agreed, it probably won’t be hard.  No doubt all civilian flights to Cairo from Europe have been cancelled.  In fact, the family friends with whom he’d planned to stay at the American Embassy compound there had just been evacuated toward Washington, D.C., via Cyprus five days before.  

In a letter last Sunday, a relative of the couple had written: “I just got off the phone with Grace and David in Cairo and they wanted me to let everyone know that they are doing fine.  Their [American Embassy] complex in Maadi is currently on lock-down, and they have had a couple of tanks pass in front of their building today.  But other than periodic gunfire and smoke and flames which can be seen in the distance, things are otherwise calm where they are.  It seems that the biggest challenge they face (at least for now),” jokes the relative, “is running out of beer and wine.”

On Tuesday, Gracie Murphy wrote: “Dearest Family and Friends, Yeahhh ...I’m on-line!!  Wow how life can change so quickly!  We made it out of Egypt and are now in Cyprus.   Our journey started at 8 a.m. yesterday riding to the airport, passing tanks and road blocks, and ending at a lovely 4-star hotel on the Med. around 9 at night (you should see the view of the sea out of our room!).  The Red Cross met us at the airport with food.  Never thought I would need help from the Red Cross!  We were met with camera’s in our faces...I can’t believe you saw me Kevin!  Dave was interviewed too...didn’t you see him?  I was not ready for that and was completely embarrassed.  To be honest, I sort of lied to the interviewer as I didn’t feel too much danger since I really hadn’t seen anything because we were not allowed to leave the compound for the last few days!  

“We are working on getting a flight out of her to take us to DC.  There are only two travel agents and many angry people waiting too long to speak with them.  Thankfully we got on the list early and Dave is working things out now.  I think we will be going through Amsterdam.  We are traveling with a great group of people from our compound.” And then to my brother:

“Douglas...we will NOT be in Cairo and you cannot stay at our apartment unless we are there too.  So sorry!  I would advise you not to go to Cairo.”

Well, it looks as if my brother Douglas will, ironically, be meeting David and Gracie in the last place they’d have expected, Amsterdam.  Meanwhile, the situation grows more and more intense in Cairo.  I remember our days there in late September of 2009, when en route from the Holy Land to the Pyramids we visited the Museum of Antiquities and the jam-packed center of this famous city of 7 million residents.  It was almost impossible even to cross the street when we visited.  What a contrast between the security we enjoyed, as visitors protected by the innumerable police and government agents on the streets of Cairo, and the tensions now besieging the nation.

As foreigners scatter from Egypt to the far corners of the earth, like dust from an ancient tomb mistakenly opened by archeologists, may the mummies of a system long obsolete give way to a better, more representative form of government.  As one commentator remarked, “Egypt’s leader has long been viewed as a curious mixture of pharaoh and father-figure.  The time has come to enter the modern world, and leave the pharaoh in the museum.”

I’m sure those fleeing foreigners agree, as do millions of Egyptians who long for a new dawn over North Africa.  But I wonder whether the rest of the Middle East wasn’t content with Mubarak’s Museum of Antiquities.

Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s Church, Stockton, CA.  Written Feb. 4, 2011