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EGYPT | Wednesday, 8 December 2010 | Views [525]

Although he does not live there M______ stays with his friend A____ in Tibah, 15 km east of Luxor. A____ studies at the nearby Faculty of Art. His paintings are easily the best thing in the college, though staff and students alike disparage his work. 'Drawing is not the only thing' they say. Indeed.

M______, though still at secondary school, draws constantly, filling sketchbooks with cars, monsters, warriors and weapons. All the things a modern comic book hero might need. I urge him to draw what he sees outside as well. M'omil, he says. Boring. But then asks for a drawing of a particular tree, to use in his work.

A____ draws everything. Boats, villages, girls from his class. Younger siblings, animals, architecture, satellite dishes. Pots and jars. Lamps, carpets, cloth, water. All with an astonishing technical grace.

Tibah itself is a dormitory suburb for university students and workers from Luxor. It is a riot of concrete formwork, freshly laid lawns, wide and empty streets. There are plentiful parks, or at least the spaces where they should be. Walking around with M______ I comment that this town is either the future or the very distant and abandoned past. There is no way to tell which from current appearances.

Although there are a handful of established blocks, with flame trees that reach past the fourth storey, most of the dwellings are either brand new or in various stages of construction. Unlike Luxor with its plentiful amenities, both open and convert, there is only one tea shop, housed in the central bus station. There is nowhere to buy credit for your mobile phone, and bread is only available in the morning.

Quite how this will change as the city fills with residents moved to make way for Luxor's open air museum is not known. Perhaps buildings will accrete in the spaces between the tidily organised apartments. Footpath vendors and street stalls. Coffee shops and fruit sellers. All that makes it possible to live, everyday, in any city around the world.

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