A season in the Nile


On Wednesday morning I arrived at The Telegraph newsroom at 7am. I spent the next 10 hours or so liveblogging the slaughter under way in Cairo. The number of dead went up all day. First 20, then 50 or so, then a report from a journalist in a morgue who had counted 93 bodies. By the time I left the number was 638.

The evening saw me dip back into my former life as an Africa hand, watching A Season in the Congo at the Young Vic. It tells the story of Patrice Lumumba, who became prime minister at Congo’s independence from Belgium but served for only three months before being imprisoned in a coup and then killed.

There are plenty of reviews elsewhere – singling out Chiwetel Ejiofor for particular praise – and there was no doubt in my mind that it captured something of the essence of the time and place. If I’d had the chance to root around behind the set I’m sure I’d have found a scrawny chicken and a tinny radio playing rumba. The ineffectual Dag Hammarskjöld from the UN and his blue-hatted dolly birds were also bang on the money.

But after my long day thinking about Cairo the scene that slapped me around the face was the one in which the US ambassador – a skeletal character, that looked a bit like a vulture, or maybe a wolf, draped in the Stars and Stripes – said something along the lines of how Mr Lumumba had been democratically elected, but perhaps wasn’t the right man for the job.

If the job then, as the US saw it, was fighting communism then the job today is fighting Islamic extremism.

And once again although Mohammed Morsi was elected democratically, it seems that Barack Obama thinks he’s probably not the right man for the job. The US president continues to get himself into a mess over whether the military coup that removed Morsi is actually a coup – or something else that rather looks, sounds and smells like a coup but which doesn’t mean he has to cut off military aid to Egypt.

Some things never change.

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