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What Kind of World Did Ahmed Bey Hassanein Live at the Time of Expedition?

Read the following in sequence or jump to:
Adventures and Sports
Science and Industry
Arts and Culture
Ideas for Creative Safarists

Adventures and Sports

Sports games became very popular in the 1920s. The Olympics of 1924 in Paris may have been a good proof of that for their unprecedented popularity. Record-breaking athletes were attracting the attention of people in Europe at the time.


Aeroplanes pilots are breaking records everyday in opening ways between distances previously disconnected. This had national as well as commercial significance--airliners followed later the airlines that those adventurers opened. All adventurers, they get enormous coverage by the countries they connect and specially the country they belong to. Everybody at the time wished to see one of their own in the air and in their own planes. Ahmed was watching that very very clearly indeed and was learning how to fly. He must have had some ideas on his head when Jimmy Doolittle made on 1922 a coast-to-coast flight (Pueblo Beach, Florida, to San Diego, California) in under one day. Then one year later, US Army Lieutenants Kelly and MacReady did non-stop from New York to San Diego.

About 6 years later, Ahmed himself has been beaten by a fellow citizen Mohamed Sidqy (Bank employee) in 1930 who flew from Germany to Cairo under what seems at the time to be an extremely heavy coverage of the Egyptian media that 3 ministers, Prime Minister Al-Nahhas, representative of the European delegations in Cairo and 25,000 Cairenes went to receive him in the airport and where Ahmed Shawki the poet composed specially for him and Mayy Ziyadah said "Other people's pilots are represented in the air. How long must the skies await Egyptian eagles?" Unfortunately, Ahmed Bey flying from London wrecked his plane in Pisa, Italy where he had to stop (and add to his adventures scars). The excitement could be only explained to Westerners as their society's when Charles Lindbergh became first to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic in May 1927. That got him a Congressional medal of honor, 100,000 welcome party in Paris, numerous songs in his name by famous singers and a parade in the U.S. that drew around 4.5 millions. Egyptians in their own scale seem to have very much matched that of others celebrations of their heroes.


1924 was the year the world has seen the Olympic Games taking place in Paris. America has won by far the lion's share of gold medals (45) followed by the very new state of Finland (14) that was declared independent from Russia in 1917. However, it was the Bey's game that attracted the Parisian streets since Roger Ducret the Champion of the French (third with 13 Gold Medals) who was the star of the games and the French national hero with 3 Gold Medals and 2 Silvers.

Ahmed was to represent Egypt in the fencing game (elmobarza belsheesh  المبارزة بالشيش ) and was representative of Oxford University in this game at one time when he was studying in Britain. At this year, Italian and Hungarian competitors took it very seriously that they took the duel to their borders and stopped only on spectators intervention after two duelers were injured. Our --already famous-- Bey must have had a lot to talk about in his parties around the world when it comes to fencing specially that he had dueled with Roger Ducret himself.

Middle Photo: Roger Ducret the French national hero, Left Photo: American Fencing Team to 1924 Olympics, Right Photo: the games.


Hassanein must have been faced in parties by Americans flaunting their Tarzan. Weissmuller on July 1922, few months before Hassanein arrives to Sollum has broken an unbelievable record of swimming 100 meters freestyle in under one minute!

Johnny Weissmuller USA American national hero and later most famous Tarzan of Hollywood

However, a Tarzan figure is hardly befitting of our Egyptian-styled graceful Bey. It must have been racing cars that captured his imagination. What better than Henry Seagrave's incredible speed of 370 k/hr on 1929? This must have been something that captured the imagination of the world and specially Ahmed Bey.

Golden Arrow Car that Seagrave used exhibited recently


Science and Industry

We're still at the 20s. Few years ago in the 1910s, Einstein's theory of general relativity came public. As revolutionary as it was, it must have been overshadowed by the events of the Great War. However, in the 1920s it seem to have fueled further discoveries in quantum mechanics and of things like the uncertainty principle in molecular physics--a principle that has fueled further philosophical views of the world.

On the industrial side of things, TV has just been invented but not yet produced or programmed for. It was the Radio that has moved from scientific discovery to major popular programs.

The prospects were big for that specific invention. Not only for mass marketing as industrialists soon noticed, but for its political significance in the nation-building process.

In America, Thomas Edison was gradually changing the household as people used to know it. His technical and industrial skills have founded what later became General Electric. A self-styled inventor but he was really an industrialist with great sense of markets needs. For instance, he marketed the phonograph for managers as Dictaphone at first but quickly recognized it as medium for the distribution of music. This was his most profitable industrial venture ever. Everybody must have been buying one of those fashionable phonographs at the time, and musicians must have jumped on the chance. Ahmed must have seen those trucks roaming the streets of Washington near his house.

Starting as a cylinder, Egyptians still use the word Ostuwana (Arabic for cylinder) for LPs and CDs. The delivery truck above was a common scene in American streets in the 1920s.

His trans-continental phone lines were an incredible achievement like everything he has designed with market needs in mind. But it must have been his light bulb called incandescent lamp that must have been a wonder. Its early shape remains in American culture as the icon of a good idea up till today.

Probably not as artistic as we use them today (spotlights and the likes by interior designers) but they acted like a fascinating item in buildings. Imagine a home that you can turn all the lamps in one large hall by a click of a button on the wall, while world royal palaces still uses fire torches lit and re-lit by hordes of elegant servants. This fact makes itself significant when you remember how we take many things now for granted and that even back in Oxford and Cairo, the Bey must have been studying under the light of a candle.

Arts and Culture

Generally known --along with 1930s-- as the inter-War period, they seemed to be times of great changes in culture and centers of power.

In Europe it was time of recession and pessimism about economy and the future. Perhaps that is the time when people feel they need to cheer up and work to change. That period was time when even a conservative public in Europe started to accept new revolutionary fashions and technologies.

But the more economics pressure, the more society responds with new arts and trends.

Women joining the workforce for military factories in Europe specially in Britain came out with the intention to do more to break the old molds of Victorianism. This is the age of Art Deco and flappers (=girls with eccentric behavior and unusual dresses).

Rosita Forbes (British lady who accompanied Ahmed in his first expedition ever to Kufra) must have been one of the new breed that Ahmed didn't see in Britain before the War and is perhaps a representative example of this wave. However, it was Gertrude Bell (the so-called Uncrowned Queen of Iraq) who was a truly politically-influential lady of this age who left her marks on the map of modern Iraq. This was nothing new in Egypt too which was not short of the new breed of activist women such as Hoda Sha3rawy ( هدى شعراوي ) Safiya Zaghlul ( صفية زغلول ).

The tom-boy, flat-chested and slim-bodied girly style became the rage in Europe perhaps for fist time in history but not yet in Egypt.

Kay Petre (left) British racer who in the 1920 has lapped in speeds reaching 215 k/h. It stands out as very early daring lady when compared to Danica Patrick (right) American in the 2000s.


Who could believe that at those turbulent times, Tut-Ankh-Amon's tomb was discovered and its treasures uncovered by Howard Carter and his British sponsor Lord Carnarvon. The world over must have shushed-up to listen to this Pharaoh's silver trumpet when blown in one of those new Radio programs of the time.

The astonishingly rich burial treasures of the young --and perhaps insignificant-- Pharaoh confirmed all the legendary richness that Egypt was famed for in ancient and medieval times, and up till those days. On November 26th, and only 25 days before Ahmed Bey lands in Sollum to start the expedition, Carter and Carnarvon became the first to enter the tomb.


Left: Carter and Lord Carnarvon opening tomb in November 1922 few days before Ahmed leaves to Sollum and less than a year after Egypt's limited Independence. Right: Howard Carter in 1925.


After the Great War fashions became open to quick alterations. Even the discovery of Tut-Ankh-Amon's legendary treasures have affected costumes and from 1923 and on, anything from ancient Egyptian styles was fashionable among ladies.

For gentlemen, the hat of course was still the rule in Europe but never in Egypt that was still using Tarbouche (called Fez in English), although bare-headed were starting to appear. Generally slimmer figures were in fashion which suited the Bey just perfectly along with gloves, canes, and of course the pocket watch.

The specially-tough "explorer's" pocket watch bought from England for Hassanein Bey's astro-navigational calculations during the expedition must have featured prominently for the parties he was invited to.

Ideas for Creative Safarists

If it looks like anything I know, Hassanein Bey's site from here on seems like a background research for a a movie or a novel. When I see his life with so much richness, I think there could be a good movie dedicated for several major events of this important man. Action, romance, historicity, physical prowess, exotism, etc. etc. are not lacking at all. If you do use it for this purpose, a note about your source ( would be appreciated.


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