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United Republic

EGYPT | Wednesday, 17 November 2010 | Views [389]

Although the United Arab Republic – Nasser's vision of a pan Arab state - is long since dead, having only briefly bound Egypt and Syria in uneasy union, an echo remains of that ill starred dream. It is found, in all places, in an annex to the Cairo Agriculture Museum. 

The museum itself is a relic. Across two buildings it details Egypt's contributions to plant and animal sciences. The life cycle of the chicken. Local and foreign duck physiognomy. Maize production, circa 1935.

The desire to update the exhibits seems to falter in the 1950s. Tins of jam [fruit preservation] with faded labels. Wool production from when Australia led the world, ahead even of the USSR. Wheat starch products. Wax models of the staple foods of each Egyptian governate. One hundred and twenty varieties of mango.

There are hunting trophies mounted on walls, African fauna with their dates of death in the local zoo, preserved chameleons from the Belgian Congo and Ruanda. Upstairs glass displays are filled with birds, their feathers mostly dull with age but occasionally bright. Poisonous snakes, empty ampoules of serum, fish of the Nile.

The UAR display is none of this. Instead there are paintings of the historic places of Syria. The waterwheels of the Orontes in Hama. Now silent or destroyed. Manikins in a local dress that is more or less absent from the modern state. Handicrafts, leather work, fluted vessels of hand blown glass.

This part of the museum is now closed. Half the exhibits are wrapped in newsprint. The lights are out. Finished, khalas, says the man outside the door. Five minutes I ask. He waves me through. I pick my way through the exhibition's darkened halls.

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