Newby’s Picnic At Sakkara is a comic novel set during political and international turmoil in Egypt. At the time of Newby’s action around 1946-47, the British are still in control of the Suez Canal, the Farouk regime was wobbling, and Egyptian nationalism led by the Muslim Brotherhood is surging.
Sakkara is the oldest Egyptian pyramid is a ruin, but a source of nationalistic pride. It is here that Edgar Perry, a lecturer in English literature at Cairo University, and his wife Mary, are taken by students for a picnic at Sakkara.
There is the friendliness and rejoicing in the precinct until Perry is accosted by Muawiya Khaslat, student and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who matter-of-factly says, “Sir, I am sorry to say it, but I am going to kill you now with this gun.” Perry incomprehensibly responds, “Beg your pardon! What was that you said?” Fortunately, Muawiya’s aim is off.
The picnic has unintended results: Perry suddenly is recognized as a hero among the students. Mary, his unloving wife, rekindles her love. Blatantly lying, she tells him that her lover is a fiction and that he is the father-to-be. But the school takes another view, and Perry is fired. The net result is that Perry is bemused, relieved, and eager to escape.
Happily escaping Cairo for England in a first-class train compartment, the door opens and his archenemy, Muawiya Khaslat, appears, and on the lid of a picnic basket spreads a white cloth on which he serves roast chicken, hard-boiled eggs, butter, bread, grapes, dates, and bottled beer (only for the Perrys). Surprised at Muawiya’s appearance, the “they eat from the “outskirts of Cairo to Benha and beyond.”
*Modern spelling is Saqqara. It is a step pyramid designed by Imhotep (about 2650 BCE). For the pharaoh Djoser. among the greatest architects of Egypt (or anywhere). Located in Memphis, then the ancient capital now a suburb of Cairo.
See Percy Howard Newby. The Picnic at Sakkara. London: Faber and Faber, 1955. It’s the first of a trilogy of Egyptian novels, Revolution and Roses (1957) and A Guest and his Going (1959)