Having spent 16 days in upper and lower Egypt, Alexandria, Cairo, El Alamein and Marina, I've gotten a crash course in Egypt 101.

Part of my trip involved the standard fare: the temples, tombs and pharaohs, the mighty Nile, the pyramids and so forth. Not as many people know that writing was invented in Egypt, which developed a highly efficient bureaucracy to run the country and give the Egyptian culture coherence and conservatism.

And yet, for all its grandeur and historical greatness, Egypt is nowhere near as vibrant or wealthy.

For one, there is a lack of leadership. A recent cartoon showed Paul the Octopus choosing Egypt's next president; the "choices" were Mubarak and Mubarak. Although there actually will be a choice in next year's presidential elections — the 82-year-old strongman has been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer — the point is that Egypt has been under the same person's rule for nearly three decades. More generally, there's a joke here — partly serious — that 10,000 people run Egypt, and they're all related.

Then, of course, there is corruption. For example, every cigarette carton here features a picture of a limp cigarette on the side. The implication? Men who don't smoke won't be able to perform sexually. Are you kidding me? What kind of message does that kind of marketing send? I had my own experiences, too. On multiple occasions, I had people come up to me, palms outstretched, asking for money. The tourist police standing guard did nothing, and I saw many of them being paid off by illegal vendors.

These are just a few observations that come to mind. Much more to come in my next column or two!


Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.