Everyone knows about Egypt, even if many may not be able to place it on the map. Most have learnt its history and geography in school, starting as early as primary school.
They learn about it as the land of the Pharaohs and Mummies, pyramids and the Sphinx.
Others have come to know about it from Holy Scriptures as the land in which holy men dwelt – from Abraham to Moses and Jesus Christ.
Many know Egypt as a centre of learning in ancient times, boasting of mathematicians, astronomers and physicians long before modern day western Europeans left their forests and caves.
The great of Europe, Asia and Africa, including famous generals, have at some point fallen captive to its charms.
Egypt is an inexhaustible treasure house for historians and archaeologists, and tourists’ most sought after destination. It has inspired poets and artists of every generation.
Looking at it this way, you may think that Egypt exists only in history. You would be mistaken. Yes, Egypt is an ancient civilisation, but it is also new and modern. It has a great past, but is also building a future to match.
This is what a group of senior media managers from across Africa have learnt on an ongoing visit to the country during which they toured its historical marvels and present day achievements.
Yours truly hitched a ride and went with the great media people and so was able to experience some of what they saw, the summary of which us that post revolution (that’s a new reference point) Egypt is doing great things and going places. One of those places is the rest of Africa.
Let’s first say that the Egyptians are very proud of their historical landmarks and those they are building now. One of them that stretches across three centuries is the Suez Canal through which ships have sailed from the Atlantic Ocean, across the Mediterranean Sea into the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean for over 150 years carrying commerce between west and east.
The canal was dug in the nineteenth century when Egypt was under British rule. It cut across Egypt and separated Africa and Asia. It was a revolutionary achievement that considerably cut the time and cost of shipping from Europe to Asia and the east coast of Africa, and increased international trade.
The Suez Canal was owned and operated by the United Kingdom and France until President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised it in 1956 and effectively took control of it after a military face-off with the British in which he emerged victor.
Then five years ago, following what is widely known here as the revolution of 2011 which has become a reference point for Egyptian renewal, it was expanded to enable more ships to go through it and faster.
The sand excavated in the expansion process was used to build the New Ismailia City to house 300,000 people initially.
The Suez Canal is therefore not just an example of engineering feat or a crucial route for world trade. It is a national monument of huge proportions, or as officials of the authority that runs it say, a great national symbol of the past as well as the future, of national glory (the preferred word here is bravery) and a living testament of Egyptian ability.
That is matched by improvements in industry. There is a big and growing manufacturing sector, with branches in Africa and the Middle East, and markets even beyond that has made it necessary to build a new industrial city outside Cairo.
One such industry with a presence in north, west and southern Africa is Elsewedy Electric that manufactures smart electric and water meters, cables of every kind, and transformers of all sizes.
The same can be seen in the field of culture. They have built a huge media production facility that they have called the Egyptian Media Production City, and it is indeed a city.
Sitting on five hundred acres, the city houses various recording studies for radio, television and cinema production. It has houses and streets representing different historical periods and architectural designs, mainly of Egyptian and Arab culture, for shooting films.
There are also outdoor and even underwater settings for cinema.
Whether it is the Suez Canal, manufacture of electrical products or textiles, or the media production city, there is the unmistakable tune: it is our brains and hands and money doing all this, and it is the biggest anywhere in the world.
A sceptic might ask: are these real or hyped claims? There is a genuineness about them, whether it is the greatness of the past or present achievements or projections for the future, that convinces you even before you see the evidence. Then you see it and you believe.
There is a sense of self-belief that they have the ability to achieve what they set their mind to and failure is not an option. As an official of the Suez Canal Authority said, failure means you stop dreaming and then you die or descend into despair, and that amounts to treason.
In the years following the revolution at the beginning of the decade, Egypt has set its eyes and mind on several things. There is a determination to reclaim its prominent position and role in Africa.
This is being done by economic reconstruction, redefining its diplomatic priorities and repositioning itself within Africa as an important continental player. This is a period in which it is rediscovering what made it great in the past.
Expect to hear more of this kind of statement. After the revolution this and that was done at home and abroad. The revolution has become the starting point and defining moment for new Egypt.
For the economy it means a quick march forward. In African relations, it is eyes south.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.