A bomb exploded this week in the Khan al-Khalili in Cairo, and killed a seventeen-year-old French girl, severely wounding a score of other visitors, some of them naturally Egyptians or other Arabs. The Khan al-Khalili is one of the great picturesque souks for which the Arab world is famous. What a place, and what a crowd! All human life seems to be there. When last I was in the Khan, I saw a man selling assorted second-hand plastic spoons, which seemed to tell me something all too real about Egypt and poverty today.
When I think of the Khan, I recall Lord Cromer, who in the days of the British governed Egypt more or less like a viceroy for over twenty years. Before obtaining his peerage, he was Evelyn Baring, and so quickly known in Egypt as Over-Baring. Modern Egypt is the lengthy memoir that he published in 1906, and well worth reading today. In it, he describes how he used to enjoy a regular walk by himself through the Khan al-Khalili. Anyone could have shot him. One day, he records, he met an Italian lady of his acquaintance, and while they were chatting a young British officer, beautifully turned out, and on a magnificent horse, came clattering past. Everyone, including Lord Cromer and the lady, had to get out of the way in a hurry. “Che bella razzia,” the lady exclaimed, meaning how fine and commanding the English looked. Lord Cromer then reflects upon the redcoats up in the citadel who are actually ensuring the peace.
No Egyptian ruler since Cromer could have dared to stroll freely like that in the Khan — not King Farouk, not Nasser, not Sadat, not Mubarak. Thanks to the invaluable service of Memri, I have lately been catching up on some Egyptian clerics. One, Amin Al-Ansari, showed scenes of wartime genocide on an Islamic television channel and preached, “This is what we hope will happen, but, Allah willing, at the hand of Muslims.” Another, Zaghloul Al-Naggar, thinks the West wants to avenge its defeat in the Crusades, and also that the Arab world is ruled by the scum of the earth because none of its leaders have declared jihad.
When ignorance and hatred come together like that, some poor fellow is left sitting on a pavement selling second-hand plastic spoons, an unfortunate French girl is blown to bits simply for passing by at that moment, and innocent bystanders have to be maimed. That Italian lady may have been a bit gushing, but the Islamists of Egypt (not to mention those of Iran, Hamas, or the Taliban) prove that Lord Cromer was surely right to maintain that if there isn’t any enforcement in these circumstances, there won’t be any peace either.