This post first appeared on Isaac and Wanda's blog Life in Egypt
As we reach the two year point in our term, we look back on past blog entries and realize we have not adequately commemorated our adopted hometown of Beni Suef. Our residence in this fair city is a major factor in our having had such a happy and meaningful experience here so far. So what is the essence of the 'flower of Upper Egypt', Beni Suef?
Back when we had first agreed to this assignment, family and friends would ask us, 'What is Beni Suef?' 'Well,' I answered, 'I don't really know.' The Lonely Planet summarized the city as such:
There's little to keep a traveler here these days; it is close to the Pyramid of Meidum and the oasis area of Al-Fayoum but both of these places can be just as easily visited from Cairo.
Beni Suef's Wikipedia page highlights two of the city's main claims to fame- a 1995 train accident, and 2005 fire at a cultural center. Not the most glowing description, and we were not exactly brimming with expectations before our 2011 arrival.
Egyptians often do not believe us when we profess our love for Beni Suef. “Why would you want to live in Beni Suef?” they ask with smiles of amusement. The honest answer is not all that complicated. Beni Suef is quiet and calm. People are incredibly friendly (though this could really be said of any Egyptian town). The weather is beautiful, except for a rather unbearable stretch mid-summer. It is part of ‘Upper Egypt’, yet is within close traveling distance of Cairo.
Everything is close together in Beni Suef. There is nothing comparable to Cairo’s endless swamp of traffic. We walk to our work, the market, the Nile and other shops with complete ease. Beni Suef, like most of Egypt, was historically an agricultural center. So despite its population of 200,000+, the city still has a very rural feel.
Beni Suef is far from an affluent city, and is said to be in competition with Sohag for a claim as Egypt’s poorest governate. But after decades of neglect, things might finally be turning around. Due to Cairo’s soaring land prices and taxes, Beni Suef has emerged as a viable space for foreign companies to build factories. Many of our students now have jobs working in a Chinese yeast factory, or dried onion production, to go along with the many Egyptian cement factories. And this June, South Korean tech-giant Samsung will open its new factory in Beni Suef- its first in the entire Middle East! Celebrating a rare piece of positive publicity for Beni Suef.
So what, on the surface, is special about Beni Suef? Believe it or not, the governate once hosted the Ancient Egyptian imperial capital during the 9th and 10th Pharaonic Dynasties. It is also home to the Pyramid of Meidum (pictured in magazine above), which predates the more famous structures at Giza. St. Anthony, considered by many to be the world’s first monk, called Beni Suef home until 270 AD when he left human society for a life in the wilderness.
A more current Beni Suef notable is Mohammed Badie, Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood since 2010. He has recently taught at Beni Suef University’s Veterinary School, and a number of our students have taken classes with him. The Muslim Brotherhood enjoys considerable influence among Egyptian faculties, and Beni Suef University is no exception.
So there is your first glance at Beni Suef; the 'Flower of the Nile'! Granted much of this information could be found online. So what of the local secrets and spots off the not-so-beaten path? The places and stories that only the locals know about? Check back soon to find our 'Tour of Beni Suef: Insider’s Edition'.