A 'tourist's' view of Egypt with Sadat and Cronkite
New York — Fasten your seat belt for an idyllic tour of Egypt. The charmingly biased Anwar Sadat serves as guide and a slightly didactic Uncle. Walter Cronkite functions as kindly tour director to set the record straight here and there. This special treat awaits armchair travelers unwilling to make the arduous rounds of Egypt's treasures during the hot Egyptian summer: "Sadat's Eternal Egypt" (CBS, Saturday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings).
Despite the fact that our guide is the leader of modern Egypt, privy to both ancient and modern Egypt's greatest secrets, we follow the beaten track of the average tourist -- visiting Cairo, Giza, Luxor, and Aswan with a side trip to Philae.
Unexplained, however, is the elimination of a voyage south from Aswan to one of the combined wonders of the modern and ancient worlds: The temples at Abu Simbel, raised high on the rocks when the new dam flooded that portion of the upper Nile.
Produced by Gordon Hyatt with the currently vacationing Walter Cronkite as correspondent, this CBS News Special Report doesn't delve very deep. It allows Mr. Cronkite to indulge in some familiar, comfortable, but still fascinating cliches: "When Moses was alive, these pyramids were a thousand years old. . . . Here began the history of architecture. Here people learned to measure time by a calendar, to plot the stars by astronomy and chart the earth by geometry. And here they developed that most awsome of all ideas -- the idea of eternity. . . ."
In the beginning, Mr. Cronkite states that he is looking for answers to "the questions bound to strike you in this extraordinary country: What kind of society did it take to produce that remarkable civilization. Why did it happen here, in this isolated river valley. Where did it all go -- and once it is gone , is there any way to bring back the glory of the past?
None of these questions is actually answered in this easygoing documentary. In fact, Mr. Sadat is allowed to make many quixotic (or shrewd) unchallenged statements, such as the one in which he denies that slaves were used to build the pyramids because "my people here for sure were very prosperous or they would never have such a civilization like this. . . .'
At one point Uncle Walter rather naively remarks to this master politician that "the life looks, to an outsider from the Western world, to be terribly poor , terribly mean. It doesn't look like there's any opportunity for joy -- how do they enjoy themselves?'
Responds Anwar Sadat: "Well, it is like this . . . here, from sunrise to sunset we are in the fields. . . . The beauty of it is something I cannot describe. . . . From sunrise to sunset in the fields, working, irrigating, and then at sunset we return and have our main meal. We are not accustomed to stay after 8 o'clock at all.We sleep very early and we wake up very early. . . ." An evasive answer worthy of an American presidential campaign.
While viewing the cultural and architectural wonders of ancient Egypt, Mr. Cronkite has also been noting the abject poverty of much of its modern society, and he remains as discreetly silent as the Sphinx.
So don't expect too many rational responses from the mystically wily Sadat in this delightful travelogue. You can learn much about ancient Egypt and its dynamic, dynastic civilizations. You can see many of the architectural glories of this "cradle of civilization." But don't expect too much in the way of rational explanations about the economy and daily like of modern Egypt.
As Walter Cronkite concludes, almost with a shrug: "Sadat himself has offerred a kind of moral example to the world in his risk-taking efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. It's hard to say whether he will succeed, and whether Egypt can continue to provide an example in the future. But Egypt's pastm will surely continue to illuminate the story of the human race -- will continue to inspire any who come here seeking hope for its survival."
"Sadat's Eternal Egypt" is a superb summer entertainment laced with fascinating facts about ancient Egypt from Walter Cronkite and colorful folkloric comments from Anwar Sadat. It's got everything the old Fitzpatrick travelogue's used to have . . . including fantastic sunsets. If it were a book, I'd call it ideal beach reading.