Sir-- In 'Mathematics in Ancient Egypt' ( Al-Ahram Weekly 25-31 January) Assem Deif emphasises the alignment with true north of the Great Pyramid, even contrasting it with a famous astronomical site in Paris. But because of precession and the angle of the axis of Earth to the plane of the ecliptic, over time "true north" changes, and is surely now just a few thousand years later, not precisely where it was at the time the Pyramid was built. How do you define directions for determinations of alignment in a situation like this?
As you said, true north changes due to the precession. Now Polaris is our north star and in 13,000 years (half the precession period) it will be vega. At the time when the GP was built (around 2570 BC) it was Alpha Dacronis (Thuban in Arabic) according to different astronomers, so it seemed the AE knew it. How I don't know. But there has been work done in this respect (Bauval's the Orien mystery for example).
If you are really interested there is an Egyptologist who must have passed away called Alexander Badawi and his assistant Virginia Trimble, an astronomer at the moment on the west coast in the US who presented the theory of the star alignment due north. True, the GP is of three minutes of arc in error only. Some even attributed this error to the movement of the Earth crest since then.
Incidentally, two main theories exist for this alignment procedure -- the sun shadow and the stellar technique.
A word should also be said regarding alignment techniques in general. For instance, scholars discovered that the Spence theory does not fit with the Abu Roash Pyramid, or that perhaps the latter is an exception and that it was erected based upon some religious considerations thought of by the Ancient Egyptians. Some scholars suggested methods combining both the solar and stellar alignments giving as an example the alignment of the Dahshur Pyramid. Whether the Pyramids' orientation due north is performed with either of the two methods or any unexpectedly third one we never thought of, scholars all agree that it has become without doubt a source of marvel and speculation as it is the most accurately oriented edifice on earth.
Can the US afford Iran?
Sir-- The White House decision to authorise the aggressive steps against Iranians in Iraq appears to formalise the American effort to contain Iran's ambitions as a new front in the Iraq war. But is it possible to wage war against Iran, justified or not, while simultaneously continuing to wage a losing (if not already lost) war against a nebulous multiplicity of Iraqi foes? Is the US ready for war against Iran? Is it ready for Bush to lead the country into yet another war, a potentially far more disastrous war? Bush and the warmongers, and particularly the neo-cons, have long promoted war against Iran. But Iran is far stronger than Iraq. Where Saddam was largely isolated in the Middle East, Iran has powerful supporters, both states and organisations.
Suddenly the media is full of Bush propagandistic assertions designed to make the American public believe that Iran is the enemy that is fighting against US troops in Iraq. The latest big lie is that the US is not winning in Iraq because of Iran.
Iraq, the target for the surge in US troop levels, has dimmed in importance. In the few days since Bush's "surge" speech, Bush, Cheney, Gates, Rice and Hadley have said far more about Iran than about Iraq.
The question is: why is Bush, who is confronted with failure in Iraq, willing to compound his problems by attacking a more powerful Muslim state that the US has no prospect of being able to occupy? This administration should have learned from history that foreign powers cannot win guerrilla wars. The British learned this from the American Revolution and re-learned it in Ireland. Napoleon learned it in Spain. The Germans learned it in Yugoslavia. The Americans should have learned it in Vietnam and the Russians learned it in Afghanistan and are learning it all over again in Chechnya. The Americans are learning it, of course, in Iraq.
A generation longer
Sir-- Khaled Amayreh's 'Futile speech' ( Al-Ahram Weekly 21-27 December) sheds light on some very painful truths. The actions of both Mahmoud Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Ereikat underscore one of the many reasons why the Middle East remains in such a sad state of affairs. As shameful as the actions of the West have been in the region, however, the greater onus of its shameful state rests at the feet of the Arab leaders themselves.
Instead of forming alliances among one another for protection against those who have invaded their lands, overthrown their governments and ensured the prolonged suffering of its citizens by secretly funding wars between nations, Arab leaders have chosen to sacrifice their sovereignty and ignore the needs of its citizens in order to appease Western whims and wishes.
During Israel's destruction of Lebanon last summer, its ongoing campaign to eradicate Palestinians from their homeland, and the impending US war with Iran, Arab leaders have not only sat in silence, but supported the West and Israel in their efforts to destroy and destabilise the region.
Although the actions of Arab leaders have served as examples of impotence and incompetence, perhaps the greatest measure of failure however, lies in Mahmoud Abbas himself. He has had the opportunity to unite Palestinians and put an end to Israel's efforts at destabilising his government and inflicting misery on its citizens. However, Mr Abbas has instead chosen to appease his benefactors in the US and Israel by undermining the democratically elected Hamas-led government which came to power as a direct result of Fatah's corruption and inability to protect its people.
Through their actions, Mr Abbas and other Arab leaders have redefined the concept of betrayal and ensured that the misery and suffering of Palestinian people at the hands of Israel and openly supported by the West, continues for yet another generation.
Sir-- This was the most misleading article that I have ever read ('Down but not defeated' Al-Ahram Weekly 18-24 January). As a Somali TFG (Transitional Federal Government) supporter, which makes me one of the 99.99 per cent Somali population, I am very happy and satisfied with the status quo. Yes, we Somalis will succeed. Like Prophet Mohamed, we sought help from Ethiopia when fellow Arabs (Quraish) were trying to silence our voices -- at that time as Muslims and this time as Muslim Somalis.