Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sa'īd ‘s Heavy Briefcase

By Bill Longworth
October 31, 2012

My telephone rang unexpectedly in my Heliopolis apartment in the suburbs of Cairo, juat blocks from President Mubarik's Palace, that my driver passed every morning chauffering me to work.
I answered and heard a disappointed Sa'īd exclaim, “Bill, my dear friend. I’m so disappointed you haven’t called me. I’ve missed you. Can I pick you up at noon to go to my Mirage City Club?”
Love to, Sa'īd,” I responded excitedly, always interested in being hosted by Sa'īd at this most exclusive Resort that had been carved out of the desert complete with 36 hole golf course, a huge waterpark with a series of wonderfully landscaped wave pools, and the most exclusive 5-Star Hotel I’d ever seen.
As promised, Sa'īd picked me up in his Mercedes sharply at noon, and shortly we entered the Mirage City security gates where guards with mirrors peered under the car for hidden bombs.
We didn’t get the full checkup that most get as Sa'īd was well known to the hotel security. Still they checked his car’s undercarriage to insure that trouble-makers hadn’t secretly attached a detonation device under his car.
Sa'īd spent most time  sitting around one of the many wave pools conducting business or entertaining guests, or in his permanent suite in the hotel entertaining female hotel workers, permissable i guess, in this culture that permitted men to have as many as four wives.
Today, as on many other days, I was Sa'īd’s guest as we sat drinking and conversing around the wave pool.
I had met Sa'īd as an employee of his wife, whom I secretly called “Diamonds”. She had hired me to set up an American-style High School and SAT training programs for very wealthy students in preparation for entrance to American Universities. Her attractiveness was not enhanced one iota by the incessant flashing of her expensive jewellery, hung around her wrists or off her fingers, that might well have doubled as giant workout weights.
As we sat around the wave pool discussing our families, Sa'īd mentioned recruiting one of my daughters as his agent in Canada to sell his paper products. This led me to point out that Canada had produced some high tech papers with special security features for the printing of currency which Canada did for a number of countries around the world.
Sa'īd’s ears perked up at the mention of this paper that would reduce the likelihood of counterfeiters reproducing their own copies of the currency.
Can you get me some samples of this special paper?” asked Sa'īd. “I could sell this to various governments in the Arab world for use in printing their own currency.”
Impossible Sa'īd,” I responded. “The Canadian Mint places top level security on this paper.”
I understand,” Sa'īd said. “Then do you think that you could have samples of the paper sent to the Prince of Saudia Arabia? Then I’d just go and sell him the paper.”
Obviously, Sa'īd travelled in better circles in the Middle East than I was used to in Canada.
At the end of the day, Sa'īd took me back to his suite of rooms so we could change out of our swimming gear before he chauffeured me back to my own digs.
On leaving his suite, Sa'īd handed me one of his two brief cases to carry to his car.
He stopped at a hotel kiosk to buy cigarettes and opened his briefcase to get the cash. It was the wrong briefcase and so he asked for the one I was carrying.
He opened it and I saw that it was stuffed full of brand new American $100 bills....There had to be a couple of million dollars or more in the case as it was stocked tight with the bills.
This was all the more remarkable because of Egypt’s foreign exchange controls restricting foreign currencies to the government and the county’s most influential citizens.
Seeing all this money, I stammered out jokingly, if not wisely, “Hey Sa'īd, you didn’t want supplies of that special Canadian currency paper to feed your own printing presses, did you?”
Sa'īd‘s stock of cash did reinforce my assessment that he was a guy with real power and influence. No wonder he was able to get me into Egypt without going through the normal border custom's-screening process. I was met as I departed the plane and escorted through back airport passageways and entered the country without any government screening.
My experiences with Sa'id, and the extreme inequity in wealth. lifestyle, and privilege of some Egyptian Citizens he represented, contrasted with the many who trekked barefoot through a stew of muddied donkey-dung streets in Cairo's Older Districts, schooled me well on the causes of their Tahir Square Revolution that occurred just a year or two later!
Their Revolution did not surprise me a bit!  Revolution is inevitable in any society where there is extreme inequity in wealth and opportunity among its citizens.

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