City of the Dead
The world is full of unanswered questions, beyond all limits or reason.” —Lara Croft, Tomb Raider
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has a vision of utopia rising from the desert. It is called “Neom.” Neom combines the Greek word neos, meaning “new,” with mustaqbal, the Arabic word for “future.”
The Line is a city within Neom. It is literally just that—a line in the desert, stretching 170 kilometers (110 mi) long, 200 meters (660 ft) wide and 500 meters (1,600 ft) high. With an estimated 1 million residents, it will be 33 times the size of New York City. It will be the first city in the world with no streets and no cars, running completely on sustainable energy.
As its website boasts, Neom will be a “living laboratory, home to the brightest minds, dedicated to the sanctity of all life on earth.”
A living laboratory? Absolutely. The sky-high structure that allows the inhabitants to look out at the expanse of desert beyond will also be the structure that seals them in and allows the gods to observe them.
Hmm, what does that remind me of? I know, an ant farm.
Artificial intelligence will monitor the city and use predictive data.
Predictive data translates into predictive analytics, a branch of advanced analytics that makes predictions about future events, behaviors, and outcomes.
There will be no crime in The Line. No one will even dare to throw a dirty wrapper on the ground as their actions will immediately be known to those monitoring surveillance. In fact, data analytics will predict which citizens have a propensity toward littering—or any other deviant behavior—before those behaviors are even displayed.
Eric Siegel, a former Columbia University professor, tells us in his book, Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die:
“Data embodies a priceless collection of experience from which to learn. Every medical procedure, credit application, Facebook post, movie recommendations, spammy e-mail, and purchase of any kind — each positive or negative outcome, each successful or failed event or transaction — is encoded as data and warehoused. As data piles up, we have ourselves a genuine gold rush. But data isn’t the gold — data in its raw form is boring crude. The gold is what’s discovered therein. With the new knowledge gained, prediction is possible.”
Renegades will be quickly weeded out and replaced with other more malleable lab rats until only the docile remain. If The Line is part of a grand laboratory, what sort of facilities will the rejected inhabit? No doubt other, more nightmarish laboratories where experiments can be conducted on such expendables.
MBS compares The Line to the pyramids. The Line, he promises, will be the greatest achievement of mankind. Or, rather, just like the Pharaohs of old, the greatest of his achievements.
I first saw the Pyramids in 1967, just a few days before I turned 11, on June 6th—the start of the 6 Day War. Nothing that I have seen since compares to those architectural wonders, built not only to defy tomb raiders but to defy death itself. And yet, along with the awe, I felt disgust. Just as I felt when gazing up at the magnificence of a cathedral or a mosque. Men had built these structures to glorify God, or so they said. But in reality, it had been to glorify themselves. Every stone represented the blood, sweat and tears of the slaves who had no choice but to labor for the will of their masters. Why did it have to be that way?
Comparing The Line to the Pyramids seems perfect for the man who was “judged by US intelligence to have approved the gruesome murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018,” not to mention torture, disappearances, violence and discrimination against women, and trafficking of persons. The list of human rights offenses, according to the US Department of State’s 2020 Report on Human Rights Practices in Saudi Arabia is very long.
Of course, these accusations are hypocritical of the United States. Since Covid took over our lives—the greatest bid for power in the history of humanity—the US and other Western nations no longer try to hide their ever-growing list of human rights violations. They claim it is for our own good, just as the powerful church and government officials did of old. The peasants are not capable of caring for themselves. The experts who now insist that only they can interpret texts and we should trust them at the expense of our own intelligence, are no different from the powerful of old who did the exact same thing by insisting that only they had a direct line to God and ordinary folks needed to trust them that they “know best.”
Perhaps that’s why The Line can be billed as this utopia and most people don’t see the problem. People have become too used to giving in. Where everyone should resist cities like The Line, the mass psychosis and waves of menticide inflicted upon us over the past few years have prepared most citizens to walk into these massive prisons and happily lock the doors behind them.
1 million lost souls will be stuffed one on top of the other in this prototype City of the Dead, serving their masters who will never let them out from under a microscope.
I have a deep connection to the Egyptian spirit, having lived across the Nile from what was once Thebes, built in 3200 BC, and is now Luxor. Along with the nearby villages, the west bank of Luxor consists of a vast web of mortuary temples and ornate tombs hidden deep inside El Qurn mountain. This is known as The City of the Dead, also known as the Valley of the Kings. It left a huge impression on me as a child, and I returned to live there as an adult for three years. I left Egypt about six months into the pandemic, an adventure I wrote about in my article for Egyptian Streets, Tales of Eclipse: the Lost (Foreign) Women of Luxor.
During the pandemic, all the tourists fled, just as they had done when I was a child, right before the 6 Day War. Riding my bike along empty village streets and then the long avenue leading to the Valley of the Kings, past the Colossi of Memnon, it felt as if I had traveled back to my long-gone childhood days. How well I remembered our family pulling a mattress out on the balcony of the Winter Palace to escape the heat and falling asleep to the sound of wild dogs howling across the Nile. Now, if it was close to sunset, the wild dogs came out of hiding and I had to sometimes beat them away with sticks as I raced by on my bike, my heart thumping in my chest. Perhaps they were really ifrits, guarding the tombs, who knows. It’s easy to have such thoughts among the tombs of the Pharaohs.
Ifrits are a type of powerful and cunning jinn, winged creatures of smoke and fire, who haunt ruins and torment and kill those who dare to disrespect them.
Only a handful of the tombs are open to the public. It is said there are many more still to be discovered. Walking on the sand of the west bank, I always had this incredible sense of wonder, knowing that beneath my feet lay treasures still to be discovered along with the rotted bodies of the dead who had hoped to take it all with them into the afterlife.
It is not unusual for villagers to find artifacts beneath the earth of their properties. These villagers are the descendants of the tomb raiders of old and they seldom reveal what they find to the authorities, knowing if they do so, they will be forced to give up their homes and likely be compensated a pittance for their findings. And so, they keep their secrets, just as they have always done, funneling their findings into the still thriving black-market treasure business.
It seems the earthly gods never learn their lesson. They use and abuse the common folk, but as with the villagers of Luxor, it is usually the common folk who have the last laugh. The Pharaohs intermarried, thinking it kept them pure and strong when it only weakened them. They expended all their energy on building monuments and stuffing their tombs with riches, mummifying themselves so they could live forever. None of this worked. Meanwhile, the people who had been enlisted to build the tombs and decorate them, defied the gods, refused to believe in the fearmongering stories of ifrits and robbed the tombs, growing richer than the Pharaohs and living longer in the process.
The Pharaohs are long-gone. But the villagers remain.
During the years I lived in Luxor, I heard many stories of magic and lost treasures. The villagers are fabulous storytellers. They will assure you that they believe their stories. But this is all a manipulation. They learned their magic from the best, the Pharaohs. It is in their blood to surround you so completely with smoke and mirrors that all sense of reality disappears, and you are lost under a spell. Just like the stories we are now being told by our earthly gods and their mouthpiece, the media, it is impossible to tell where truth ends, and fantasy begins.
Luxor is a messy place. It is dirty, plagued by mosquitoes, and you must constantly navigate through the lies and attempts of the locals to cheat you out of every last penny you have. The west bank is notorious for this. It is filled with elderly foreign women who came for a holiday and never left, duped by local men who wooed them with love songs, convincing them to give over even their old age pensions. These women live like ghosts, coming out after dark when the moon rises and haunting the cafes that hug the Nile. Almost all the villas you see on the west bank have been built with the money of foreign women who become trapped there with no money left to get out. They end up buried beneath the sands of St. Tawdros (El Mohareb’s) Monastery, joining the bones of all the others who dreamed of immortality and lost it to the trickery of the villagers and the ifrit.
For all of that, I love Luxor and the chaos of its streets. I prefer it to the perfect order of The Line any day. During the Covid hysteria, the villagers were not fooled for a minute. Nobody was going to wear a mask. Nobody was going to lock down. Life went on as usual. Even when the government made such orders, very few people obeyed them.
The villagers laughed at coronavirus. They joked that they were immune because they could even drink the polluted Nile water and never get sick. Children grow up playing in the sand among the dead, paying no attention to the flies crawling on their bodies. I was always covered in mosquito bites while their skin was smooth and unaffected.
I am sure there will be no mosquitoes in Neom. No flies either. How unsanitary and imperfect that would be! Do they think they can upset the balance of this planet so completely without dire consequences?
They promise to usher in a new era of the Internet of Bodies, where humanoids and Artificial Intelligence meld seamlessly into one gigantic organism. All personal data of the inhabitants, not just related to health, but related to credit scores, whether or not they are religious, if they’ve gone to a therapist, what they ate for dinner and how much they spent, I mean, anything and everything will be tracked and stored.
No part of their human bodies will escape its interference. Even the toilets will no doubt be connected to the Internet where they will monitor citizens’ waste using BioBot technology to determine what they eat, what drugs they take, and analyze their genetic material.
Through Nanobiotechnology the cell structures of these inhabitants will be reengineered to enable them to communicate with IoB devices. Whereas the God of the Bible spoke life into being, the gods of this world are creating the language of nanobiotechnology that will control each and every humanoid beneath them.
For the first time in our history, actual humans will be on a lower level and those who have “transcended” humanity will exist on a higher plane above the rest of us. But this is no different from how it has always been. Do earthly gods like MBS, Jeff Bezos, Klaus Schwab and others, really think they can pull it off this time when even the Pharaohs failed?
I left Luxor under dangerous circumstances, but I’d go back in a second, if I could. And who knows, maybe I will. If so, I’d find my way to The Rest Cafe, just opposite the forbidding El Qurn Mount, buy myself a Stella beer and listen to more spell-cast stories. One such story, I will never forget, told to me on a starry night when the moon hung full, and the dogs howled beneath it.
The current owner of The Rest is a descendent of Sheikh Hussein Abd el Rassuhl, a member of the Howard Carter expedition that excavated the tomb of Tutankhamun. He was a mere child at the time and acted as their water boy. It was this boy who all villagers agree led Carter to the right place to dig for the tomb.
As far back as the 13th century the inhabitants of Abd el Gourna had not only secretly mined for treasures from the tombs and sold them, but had built an entire village into the mountain, inhabiting even the tombs themselves. These people lived and breathed the mysteries of the City of the Dead. They became a dynasty of tomb raiders.
The greatest of them all were the Abd el Rasul brothers, Ahmed and Mohammed.
These brothers had an instinct, perhaps placed in them by the gods themselves, to discover the secrets hidden within the mountain. At night they would search for the tomb entrances by lamplight. The ancient Egyptians called this “Hy,” or “He who knows the secrets of the location of the tombs.” It is said they drank of a potion left inside the tombs for the pharaohs to give them long lives and insights. This is why the curses that befell others never befell them.
In 1871 the brothers’ lives changed forever. One of their goats fell down a hole in the sand and disappeared. Cursing the loss of a goat, they climbed down after it and discovered Deir Al-Bahri, a vast tomb where priests from the 20th dynasty had buried 40 mummies along with thousands of papyri and other treasures hoping to hide them from ancient thieves. The Abd el Rasul family told no one of their find and began discreetly selling off the treasures. But as more and more treasures appeared on the market in Cairo, word got out and speculation arose. The government sent the first Egyptian archeologist, Ahmed Pasha Kamal, to investigate. The police caught the brothers and tortured them. But no amount of torture could make the brothers reveal the location of the tombs. After some months, Mohammed was released. But of Ahmed, nothing was ever heard of since.
When Mohammed was released, he made a deal with the government. In exchange for an enormous sum, he gave up the location of Deir Al-Bahri to Kamal. In fact, the brothers had argued about this before, Ahmed vowing never to give away the family secrets, while Mohammed had come to realize that their tomb raiding days were over, and it was time to reinvent themselves.
In return for this fabulous information, Mohammed became very wealthy, and that wealth was passed down through the generations. The Rest is not a tourist destination, in fact it seems the owners care nothing for tourists, which is unusual in Luxor. It’s whispered that beneath the cafe are untold treasures to be excavated but the family refuses to give up this land. Even more interesting, is that the government has not forced them to do so.
But what happened to Ahmed? Did one brother betray the other? Have his remains joined the millions of other bones still hidden within the City of the Dead?
Perhaps we will never know. Perhaps this story isn’t even true. These are the mysteries that tantalize us and keep us guessing. These are the mysteries that fuel our imaginations and bring excitement to our lives.
There will be no such mysteries in The Line. No excitement, no chaos. The mind of a renegade tomb raider like Rassuhl will be probed by AI, a microchip inserted, and all the secrets sucked out, leaving him bland and pliable.
The Line is still in the making while Thebes and now Luxor has existed for thousands of years. Can cities like The Line ever really replace cities like Luxor? If you happen to visit Luxor, be sure to stop in at The Rest Cafe. No doubt you will find the latest Rassuhl sitting on soft cushions like his father and his grandfather before him, smoking a cigarette and drinking inky black coffee, holding his secrets as tightly as ever.
Where would we be without such renegades? Like the tomb raiders of old, will they rise up from the ashes of The Line to overcome these earthly gods, and, in so doing, have the last laugh, yet again?
I certainly hope so.