National Geographic : 1942 Apr
War Meets Peace in Egypt By GRANT PARR AND G. E. JANSSEN T HE land of Egypt, over which so many wars have swept, occupies a place in world affairs today which is unique for our time. There have been few similar in stances in history. Egypt has a war within her borders. But Egypt is at peace. Along the yellow-gray waters of the Nile the fellahin still till the fields of cotton, corn, and sugar cane in primitive fashion. They are only mildly curious as new bombers roar overhead down the Nile (map, page 507). Within a few miles of Alexandria, where Britain's powerful warships lie in wait for unwary Italian men-of-war, the Egyptian boatman happily sails his felucca up and down the Nile just as did his father and grand father, indeed all his ancestors back in the beginning of civilization.* The same single giant sails, tilted precari ously upward from a short mast, propel the same blunt-nosed hulls along the river and canals. The Egyptian Government, for the most part, carries on its business as usual. The Egyptian Army remains noncombatant, al though it is in charge of the antiaircraft defenses around Cairo and in parts of Alex andria and the Suez Canal areas. Some citizens of Alexandria and the Canal area have moved to the country in search of safety from frequent Axis bombing raids. Early last June more than 400 Alexandria peo ple were killed in a single horrible night; but training and experience have substantially re duced the death tolls despite the continued intensity of the raids. Cairo Hub of Four War Fronts The Cairo blackout is only partial. Al though there have been minor air raids in the vicinity, the city is virtually undamaged. The war and the effects of war seem far away. Yet Cairo has been the hub of four fronts East Africa, Greece, Syria, and the Western Desert. It may become so again. All these signs of peace and minor signs of war do not tell the true story. In Egypt's Western Desert and on the seas which wash her shores, a battle rages which may be the key to victory in this war, and one which may substantially affect the fate of the world, not excepting that of the United States. Both sides have their opponents well sized up. Everything depends on supplies, and that is another way of saying that much depends on the United States. The United States is making and transport ing supplies and equipment for Britain's Middle East services-tanks, armored cars, trucks, airplanes, food. It must ship more of them to Egypt than Germany is able to ship to Axis forces in Libia. American ships must sail halfway round the world; Axis ships must sail about 300 miles. American Supplies Arriving American supplies have been arriving in Egyptian ports at an unprecedented rate, and the balance of power in this race for equipment seems to be swinging to the British side. Credit for this must go to the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy for making it extremely difficult for Germany or Italy to use the Mediterranean; and to the Ameri can and British merchant seamen who have risked their lives to bring shipload after ship load of war materials around the Cape and up through the Red Sea to their destination. The dangers these men faced were brought home on September 5, 1941, when an Axis plane dropped two bombs, or torpedoes, along side the American freighter Steel Seafarer in the Red Sea. The prompt action of the crew members saved their lives; but the Seafarer sank within twenty minutes. Despite Axis bombing and the adoption of the Cape route, the Suez Canal remains the eastern key to the Mediterranean. As long as Britain holds it and Gibraltar, the Nazis and Fascists will remain locked within this ancient sea of many battles. Establishment of the new Pan American Airways ferry service across Africa now links Egypt far more closely with America, and means much to Americans still resident in the Middle East. The foreigner in Egypt often feels isolated from the rest of the world. He has the latest international news, but this seldom includes the details about American life upon which he once feasted when American newspapers and magazines arrived promptly. These are slow in coming now, and some are censored. Supply remains the chief problem, the essential strategy, of war in this theater. Yet the onlooker finds the human side of war far more fascinating. This may be observed * See "Daily Life in Ancient Egypt," by William C. Hayes, and 32 paintings, "Life, Culture, and His tory of the Egyptians," by H. M . Herget, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1941.