Here’s a little “this day in Middle East history” combined with an Arabic lesson, if you’re interested. Construction on the Aswan Dam started in 1960 and was one of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s great plans for the modernization/industrialization of Egypt. Built with Soviet aid (the US and UK both withdrew their support over Nasser’s neutrality and, specifically, his decision to formally recognize the Communist government of China), the dam took a little over 10 years to build, and today is the 45th anniversary of its completion.
The dam’s impact on Egypt has been considerable, mostly via its electricity generation and the fact that it retains millions of cubic kilometers worth of water that would otherwise flow out to sea every year, protecting the country against droughts. Regulating the Nile floodplain also allowed Egypt to reclaim almost a million hectares of arable land, though by controlling the river the dam has caused a decrease in the sediment the river carries each year, which has sped up the erosion of the Nile Delta.
One of its more interesting side effects involved the relocation of the rock temples at Abu Simbel, which would have been lost under the Lake Nasser, the reservoir created by the dam. The Abu Simbel temples were built by the Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BCE and are some of the most spectacular Ancient Egyptian structures. After considering and rejecting ideas for artificially raising the site on a man-made island and damming the lake to preserve the temple, the government hired a team of archeologists and engineers to cut the temples into large blocks, move them 200 meters away to the anticipated shore of the new lake, and reassemble them. It was probably one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the 20th century.
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When I was a lowly first-year Arabic student many years ago, the textbook we used was this very austere-looking orange-colored tome called, austerely, Elementary Modern Standard Arabic 1.
That’s the one!
EMSA is a perfectly cromulent textbook — it teaches you the right grammar, writing, reading, etc. — the as long as you have no particular interest in learning the sort of vocabulary that you might need to engage in a normal conversation with another normal human being. Instead of writing lesson texts and dialogues around everyday things like talking about the weather, or ordering food in a restaurant, the writers of EMSA get into some really targeted topics, like elections in the US and a discourse on the status of women in the Arab world — important topics, but not the kind of thing you’re likely to get into as a first-year Arabic student who might want to…
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