We perked up when we heard about an update to our favorite Marriott. The hotel, splayed on the central island of Zamalek, is a calm, warm slice of history in the stir-crazy beehive of Egypt. Apart from two looming towers and a massive courtyard, the hotel is centered around an ornate, historical palace, originally built in 1869 to house guests for the Suez Canal opening.
That palace is the focus of the big news this fall, as the Marriott has just announced a comprehensive renovation to the building as well as several other changes to the property. Big improvements will be made to facets of the palace, which includes over a dozen meeting rooms, the Omar Khayyam Casino, a dozen places to eat and drink and a battery of shops — all while keeping the historical angles of the property well-preserved.
In addition to the main palace improvements, a swath of rooms in the west wing will be eviscerated to make space for a larger, more comprehensive spa facility. Those updates are scheduled to finish some time in 2012.
All total, the full renovation should add a great deal of improvement to an already outstanding property on the banks of the Nile. We can’t wait to get back to check things out
A large aid convoy arrived in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after a mainly overland trip through Europe but without its chief organiser, a firebrand former British MP declared persona non grata by Egypt.
The convoy reached Egypt by ferry from the Syrian port of Lattakia and entered the Hamas-run Palestinian territory through the Rafah border crossing.
The official Egyptian MENA news agency said the “Lifeline 5″ convoy of 137 trucks filled with humanitarian aid supplies was accompanied by around 340 human rights activists of various nationalities.
Its arrival was marked by the absence of George Galloway, an outspoken Scot and controversial left winger who was banned from Egypt after convoy activists clashed with police in January in El-Arish, 45 kilometres (30 miles) from Gaza.
Convoy spokesman Zaher Berawi on Thursday deplored Cairo’s insistence on “excluding convoy official George Galloway,” and said he hoped the issue of the former parliamentarian’s banning can be resolved in the future.
Hamas officials and hundreds of people welcomed the convoy to Gaza, waving Palestinian flags and also those of countries participating in the convoy.
The convoy left London on September 12, passing through France, Italy, Greece and Turkey before arriving in Syria in early October.
While in Turkey, the participants paid tribute to nine Turkish activists who were killed in a deadly May 31 Israeli raid on aid ships trying to run the Gaza blockade.
Israel had closed its border with Gaza to all but limited supplies since Hamas seized control there in 2007, but in the wake of the raid it partly lifted the blockade and allowed in all purely civilian goods.
The convoy was organised by the Britain-based group Viva Palestina which campaigns for lifting the Gaza blockade.
Egyptian men have recently been seeking to marry Chinese women in an attempt to escape the high costs of a traditional Egyptian marriage and to have partners known for their loyalty.
A large number of Egyptian men, mostly over the age of 35, have contacted the Chinese embassy in Cairo to inquire about the possibility of marrying Chinese women. Others have been seeking Chinese brides through matchmaking Web sites. Despite confirming that they have received requests from Egyptian men, the embassy said it refuses to act as a go-between.
The financial situation of Egyptian youths is the major reason behind their preference for Chinese brides. In a traditional Egyptian marriage, the groom has to pay a dowry, buy an apartment and give the bride a diamond ring or a gift made of gold. By contrast, Chinese women do not ask for much in this regard.
In addition, many Egyptian men view Chinese women as perfect wives because they think Chinese women are pretty, active and smart as well as very skilled in cooking and other household chores. In their eyes, Chinese girls are also well trained in martial arts, and thereby capable of defending themselves as well as their husbands.
For Egyptian men, obedience and loyalty are the most attractive features of Chinese women, as the Chinese culture teaches them to be subordinate to their husbands. Another important advantage is that the mother of an expatriate Chinese woman normally does not live in Egypt, which means the husband does not need to worry about the mother-in-law’s interference in the couple’s life.
The phenomenon of seeking Chinese brides has gone beyond major cities like Cairo and Alexandria, and has extended to small towns in Upper Egypt and the Nile Delta. Egyptian families who have unmarried girls have started expressing their concerns over the Chinese invasion.
The Egyptian authorities have brought in new media rules seen as restricting the ability of independent broadcasters to provide live television coverage of next month’s parliamentary election.
Private production companies that provide live broadcast services to independent television stations have been told in recent days by the telecoms regulator that their standing licences have been revoked, and that they will now need to apply for new ones from the Ministry of Information
Companies say it is not clear when these will be issued. Operating broadcasting equipment without a licence is illegal.
“It means we will not be able to do any work from the street,” said Nader Gohar, the owner of Cairo News Company.
“I won’t be able to station equipment in front of an election office so that a television correspondent can report from the spot or interview candidates live.”
The new restrictions come at a time of political uncertainty, with Egypt on the cusp of a transition after three decades of rule by Hosni Mubarak, the president. Presidential elections are due next year, and many believe Mr Mubarak’s son, Gamal, will be the candidate of the ruling National Democratic party.
But opposition groups have been trying to mount challenges against what they see as an unacceptable dynastic succession. Officials have said that the new rules are aimed at organising the broadcasters and not at censoring or restricting coverage by independent stations ahead of the election.
However, many analysts are concerned that this is an attempt to reverse gains made by the independent media over recent years.
“We ask for some transparency,” said Rasha Abdulla, chair of the journalism department at the American University in Cairo. “It cannot be that every day we wake up and there is some decision that by coincidence adds to the restrictions on freedom of expression rather than to the diversity of opinion.”
Independent television and media coverage in the last parliamentary election, in 2005, was instrumental in highlighting violence and irregularities on polling day.
After independent candidates affiliated with the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition gained 20 per cent of the seats in parliament in 2005, the authorities introduced constitutional changes doing away with a previous requirement that all balloting should take place in the presence of a member of the judiciary.
Opposition critics say the constitutional amendment has removed an important safeguard against election rigging.
Egyptian civil society organisations will be allowed to observe voting, but the government will ban international monitors.
Mr Gohar said that broadcast companies had been told verbally by officials that they could go on working without licences until new ones had been issued.
However, he complained that this informal arrangement left them vulnerable to accusations that they were infringing the law and to punishments of up to three years in jail.
He said that he was now being extremely careful about the studio guests brought by clients who booked airtime through his company.
“If anyone says they want to interview a senior leader of the Brotherhood, I will refuse,” said Mr Gohar.
“If a station like al-Jazeera TV [often critical of the Egyptian government] asks me to send a unit out on the street, I will say no,” he said.
KYLIE MINOGUE received a guided tour of Egypt’s historic Pyramids by famed archaeologist DR. ZAHI HAWASS ahead of her charity gig at the ancient site on Thursday (21Oct10).
The Spinning Around hitmaker was chosen earlier this month (Oct10) by readers of the country’s eniGma magazine to perform at the publication’s 10th anniversary concert, beating out competition from Rihanna, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez.
The singer was thrilled at the prospect of performing in Egypt and shared her delight with fans on Thursday by posting a photograph of herself and Dr. Hawass in the shadow of the Great Sphinx monument.
She wrote, “With the amazing Dr Zahi Hawass in front of the Sphinx… yes THE Sphinx!!! To see these sights is so incredible, moving and powerful.”
Proceeds from the concert will go to the country’s Abou El Reesh children’s hospital.
A top governing party official has given the strongest indication yet that President Hosni Mubarak, left, will seek another six-year term in elections next year despite recent health troubles and speculation that he is grooming a son for power. Mr. Mubarak, 82, who after nearly 30 years in office is already Egypt’s longest serving leader in nearly two centuries, would be almost 90 if he served another full term. “The next president is President Hosni Mubarak,” Alieddin Hilal, who often acts as the spokesman of the National Democratic Party, said in a television interview.
An international aid convoy bound for Gaza set sail from the Syrian port of Latakia late Tuesday heading towards Egypt’s al-Arish port after being delayed in Syria for 16 days, the convoy’s organizers said in a statement.
The Viva Palestina convoy of 150 vehicles, 370 people and aid worth some 5 million dollars, is expected to reach al-Arish Wednesday evening, organizers added.
Viva Palestina is a group of international activists, led by British parliamentarian George Galloway, working to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip and to deliver humanitarian aid to its residents.
Egypt and Israel tightened the blockade on the Gaza Strip after Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.
The Egyptian government has faced domestic and regional criticism for its partial blockade on Gaza. However, after Israel violently prevented an aid flotilla, called the Mavi Marmara, from reaching Gaza in May, Egypt lifted some of the restrictions at its Rafah border crossing, including allowing entry to Palestinians needing medical attention and pilgrims.
For its part, Israel maintains an air and naval blockade on the Strip, in addition to tightly controlling the movement of goods in and out of the area via land crossings.
Around 30 activists, including survivors of the Mavi Marmara plan to sail by the location of the flotilla attack and the activists plan to hold a memorial service for the nine people killed.
The rest of the group will join them after flying the final leg of the journey into Egypt.
Egyptian security clashed with both Viva Palestina activists and Palestinians on the Gaza side of the border in January after a standoff over allowing the activists and their aid shipment into the Strip.
They were eventually granted entry, but Galloway was told by authorities upon his departure from Egypt that he would not be permitted back into the country.
Earlier this month, Egypt announced it would allow the ship to dock in Egyptian waters on five conditions, however, it did not specify what the conditions were.
The convoy started out from London on September 18 and drove through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Syria.
Galloway’s website claims that it is the biggest and most international convoy set to break the siege of Gaza so far.
A British passenger plane strayed into Israeli airspace after taking off from Egypt and nearly collided with an Israeli Air Force fighter jet, the Israeli military said on Tuesday.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson’s office, the near-accident happened on September 25 when a Europe-bound British plane took off from Sharm el-Sheikh and shortly afterward, it suddenly strayed north, crossing 13 miles (20 kilometers) into Israeli airspace.
The British plane, that was under the authority of Egyptian air traffic controllers, strayed north into Israeli airspace “without co-ordination or approval.” The Israeli military said Israeli air traffic controllers prevented a collision.
A complaint was filed with the Egyptian civil aviation authority.
HATE preacher Abu Hamza yesterday launched a new bid to keep his British passport in a legal battle that has so far cost £1.4million.
Hamza is fighting attempts to strip him of his citizenship arguing it is a breach of his human rights.
The hook-handed cleric says that he has been disowned by his native Egypt and that taking away his British passport would leave him “stateless”.
Hamza, 52, is in high-security Belmarsh prison, south London, where he is fighting an attempt by the Home Office to extradite him to the US where he is wanted on terror charges.
The cleric’s legal battle has run for more than six years. Legal experts predict the final bill will top £2million. The latest court hearing got underway yesterday at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in central London. It is expected to last three days at a cost of £120,000.
Hamza’s publicly funded legal team includes the eminent barrister, Ed Fitzgerald, QC, whose previous clients included child killers Myra Hindley and Jon Venables. The Home Office has its own barrister, junior and lawyers.
One of Hamza’s team, Amanda Weston, told the court that her client would have no state to call home if his passport was removed. She said: “We say that the international convention places an obligation on the UK to prevent statelessness.”
Hamza was jailed for seven years in 2006 for inciting murder and race hate. He first came to Britain in the 1980s on a student visa. He got a UK passport after marrying a British woman. Hamza later embraced a radical form of Islam and travelled to Afghanistan where he lost both hands and an eye in a land mine explosion.
Zahi Hawass said hieroglyphics on the walls of the 4,300-year-old structure indicated it belonged to Rudj-ka, a priest inspector in the mortuary cult of the pharaoh Khafre, who built the second largest of Giza’s pyramids.
The tomb — about the size of a train car — was adorned with paintings, some still vivid. Images on one wall depict a man standing on a boat, spearing fish. Nearby are lotus flowers and different types of birds standing or in flight.
The tomb is thought to date to the 5th dynasty, 2465-2323 BC.