The evening of Saturday 3 April 2021 saw the Pharaohs Golden Parade on Cairo’s streets. Twenty-two mummies of 18 kings and four queens of ancient Egypt were moved from their decades-long residence in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Ain al-Seera in al-Fustat, Old Cairo. Most of the mummies belonged to Egypt’s New Kingdom, 1539 BC – 1075 BC; these included the last king of the 17th Dynasty Seqnenre Tao, also Seti I, Ramses II, Ramses IX, Thutmose III, Merit Amun, and Queen Hatshepsut who ruled as a pharaoh.
Museum of Egyptian civilisation
Before the mummies moved, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, accompanied by Prime Minister, Mostafa Madbouli; Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO; and Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation arrived at NMEC, to officially open the Main Hall and the Royal Hall of Mummies which was to host the 22 mummies. The hall has been designed to state-of-the-art museoligical standard, so that visitors would experience the illusion of being in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. The mummies will go on display to the general public starting 18 April.
Touring the museum
The President was treated to a tour of the museum, guided by Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled al-Anany whose eloquence and precision in explaining the purpose of the museum and the artefacts on display were remarkable. Mr Anany explained that the museum was designed to show not articles of antiquity of any specific era, but items that span Egypt’s history from pre-dynastic times until the present. It includes artefacts from ancient Egypt, Greco-Roman times, Coptic and Islamic times, the more recent centuries, and till today. It uses a multidisciplinary approach that highlights the country’s tangible and intangible heritage. “It is the only museum in Egypt that offers the visitor an overview of all Egypt,” he said.
Mr Anany said the NMEC features generous temporary exhibition spaces, an auditorium and an education and research centre, as well as an exhibition on the development of the modern city of Cairo. It will act as a venue for a variety of events, including film screenings, conferences, lectures and cultural activities and will target broad local, national and international audiences.
The President and guests then gathered in a hall richly decorated in pharaonic style to watch on screen the royal parade and attend a celebration in its honour.
But first Mr Anany gave a word in which he spoke of the NMEC as the huge project that it is, Egyptian in concept, design and execution. Speaking informally and eloquently, he sincerely thanked President Sisi for his “unfailing, daily support of and concern for” the project and for all Egypt’s ambitious touristic work. He expressed his gratitude to all official and non-official bodies, all the artists, musicians, singers, actors and actresses, and the hundreds of enthusiastic young people who willingly volunteered valuable time and energy, racing against time to come out with that evening’s event.
Mr Anany explained that the move of the royal mummies that evening was the fourth they had undergone. The kings and queens had been buried in their respective tombs on Luxor’s West Bank, but were later moved into two sites deep in the mountain to protect them from ancient tomb robbers. The two caches were excavated in 1881 and 1898 and moved by boat along the Nile to the museum of Egyptian antiquities in Boulaq, Cairo. In 1902 the Egyptian museum in Tahrir was opened, and the mummies were moved there. “Today,” he said, “they come here to their final resting place.”
Mr Anany also reviewed the ministry’s achievements throughout the last few years. His passion for his work was all too obvious.
He explained that Egypt now boasts three major museums that display ancient Egyptian antiquities: the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on the Giza Pyramids plateau which is due to open next year and which features among its displays the Tutankhamun collection, the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir with its extensive unique collections, and the 22 mummies now in the NMEC.
Worthy of note is that the carbon 14 dating laboratory at the museum has been named after a young modern-day Coptic Martyr, Bishoy Nadi, who was among the 45 men killed in a suicide bombing during Palm Sunday Mass in Tanta’s Church of Mar-Girgis on 9 April 2017. Nadi was among the first to work at the lab.
A documentary presented by Egyptian iconic actor Khaled al-Nabawi took the audience on a journey that featured a number of recently restored historic sites and newly opened museums, including churches, mosques and the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria.
The event everyone was waiting for then started, broadcast live by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, in addition to some 500 channels.
The mummies left the museum in a parade preceded by a procession of bearers of offerings in ancient Egyptian dress, replica horse-drawn war chariots, and a motorcycle motorcade.
The mummy that led the parade was that of King Seqnenre, the warrior who led the liberation war against the Hyksos who were a Semitic people that invaded Egypt in around 1782 – 1570BC; they were thoroughly hated by Egyptians. The other kings and queens followed King Seqnenre, in chronological order.
The mummies were moved in special acclimatised nitrogen-filled cases to protect them against external conditions. They were loaded on 22 floats in the shape of the pharaonic boats that were believed to transport the dead to eternity. The floats carried the names of the kings and queens in hieroglyph, Arabic and English. They were decorated in typical Egyptian blue and gold, and fitted with special shock-absorbers. Roads along the route had been repaved to keep the journey smooth.
Tahrir Square sparkled as laser lights lit its central obelisk and four surrounding sphinxes, as well as the buildings around it.
Once the parade left Tahrir Square and took the Nile Corniche on its 5km journey to the NMEC, screen time took over. Dance performances were screened, shot in various destinations in Egypt.
At the hall in the NMEC, President Sisi and his guests attended a concert by the 120-musician and 100-singer United Philharmonic Orchestra. Egyptian conductor Nader Abbassi conducted it in a monumental composition by Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih.
A number of star actors and actresses including Ahmed Ezz, Karim Abdel Aziz, Mona Zaki, Ahmed Helmy, Nelly Karim, Hend Sabry made video appearances extolling Egypt’s history, and the iconic Yusra, robed in white, made a live appearance at the NMEC hall. A recorded video clip featured Egyptian Nubian singer Muhammad Mounir in a song of Egypt.
In the concert hall, young opera singers Reham Abdel-Hakim and Nessma Mahgoub sang classic Arabic songs, while soprano Amira Selim sang an aria the words of which were taken from the epic “Book of the Dead” texts, dedicated to Goddess Isis, vocalised in the Ancient Egyptian language.
By that time the royal parade had reached the NMEC. President Sisi left the concert hall and went directly to be in the honour of receiving the kings and queens.
A 21-gun salute was fired in their honour of the Egyptian kings and queens.
AFP quoted Ms Azoulay as saying “We see the history of Egyptian civilisation unfold before our eyes.”
On social media
Egyptians had a lot to post on the event on social media.
Coptic official figures were among those who posted. Anba Raphael, Bishop of Downtown Cairo Churches, cited the verses 19-22, 25 from Isaiah 19 which give a prophesy about Egypt. ‘In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt … whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people.’
“Proud of our Egyptianess,” Anba Raphael wrote.
On his Facebook page, Bishop-General Anba Ermia wrote: “As an Egyptian, I followed with pride and appreciation the NMEC event and the royal parade. Egypt, as old as history, took the first steps in the world on the path to civilisation. Today Egypt follows in the path of the ancestors, in wisdom and beauty. May the Lord protect Egypt, her people and her leaders from all harm.”
The musical theme which ushered the royal mummy procession had invariably captured the hearts of the listeners. Mohamed Abd ElGawad posted an explanation of the melody, saying that it was themed on the melancholy Coptic “Golgotha” which was originally used by the ancient Egyptians during funerals and burials, and is still used for the same purpose by the Coptic Church today. Conductor Nader Abbassi used the “Golgotha” theme in a symphonic arrangement. “It was delightful to hear a thoroughly Egyptian melody played after some 4000 years,” Gawad wrote.
Either Ikhwan or Hyksos
Even though the majority of bloggers raved about the event, there was no shortage of critics. “A venerable, magnificent show put up at huge cost,” one blogger said. “But to what purpose? There’s a third wave of COVID-19 and people are dying. Wouldn’t it have been better to spend the money on the health sector?”
Persons with fundamental Islamic views naturally criticised the event. “Why the pride taken in pagan pharaohs? Weren’t the Egyptians servants and slaves then? Why don’t we see pride in the Muslims who entered [invaded] Egypt in the 7th century commissioned by the Prophet [Muhammad], such as Amr Ibn al-Aaas, may Allah be contented with him? To say nothing of Saladin, Qutuz, or Beibars who had Egyptian armies defend Islam.”
Such criticism brought on the sarcastic meme: “Those unhappy today are either Ikhwan or Hyksos.” Ikhwan, literal for “Brothers” is used by Egyptians to denote the Muslim Brothers and more generally all who believe in political Islam; Hyksos were the hated invaders.
Blogger Abdullah Sulaiman al-Kameie, whose name denotes Arab origin, wrote extolling Egypt: “When countries are ruled by the chosen, the evil Ikhwan are destroyed, terror is defeated and corruption battled, nations go out from the dark to the light, from ruin to prosperity and stability, and hearts embrace. Egypt, peace be upon you and your people from now to Eternity.”
Otherwise, the main theme prevalent among bloggers was “Proud to be Egyptian”.
Egyptian tourist guide Asma Raouf posted: “The whole world has today seen the beauty of Egypt, the beauty of Cairo, and how much Egyptians respect their history and ancestors. Thank you, Mr President, for upgrading Tahrir Square and Ain al-Seera and the path of the parade on the Nile Corniche. Thank you Mr Anany for spearheading the event which made us all proud. Once the parade was over I caught myself lamenting: Is it over? I didn’t want it to end! What beauty, greatness, pride, respect, civilisation and memorable history! This is indeed Egypt.”
Another blogger simply wrote: “What a great show! If I were to travel in time and choose which era to live in I’d choose ancient Egypt.”
Another remarked: “Superb lighting, scenery, music and costumes … the entire Tahrir Square was a story to tell!”
Dr Raouf Rushdy expressed, as a “word of truth” his admiration of what he described as a legendary epic of history and modern musical art intertwined to yield a stunning visual message of greatness. “Proud of the idea, execution, and cultural content! Thank you Khaled al-Anany, thank you every person who contributed to this epic of pride and joy! Egypt is fit to be the number 1 tourist destination in the world once covid vaccines make travel again possible. Egypt can!”
According to media person Ishaq Younan: “Amid the depressive news of COVID-19 in the whole world, Egypt exports a lovely image not of persons who died but of a great people who believed in life even after death. Proud to be Egyptian!”
Many declared their pride in what they described as Egypt’s genuine identity. “A big ‘Thank you’ to the President [Sisi] who recovered our Egyptian identity,” they wrote.
But the controversial Sheikh Abdullah Rushdy commented: “We are happy with our 7000-year-old history of civilisation. But this will not change our Arab Islamic identity … I hold on to being an Arab and Muslim. If this makes anyone cross, so be it, we will never give up on our Arab Islamic Egypt.”
For his part, journalist and Coptic activist Nader Shukry wrote: “Egypt works greatness! Proud of our Pharaoh forefathers. Proud of President Sisi who saved Egypt from the Ikhwan. Proud of the magnificent Tahrir Square. Proud of the young women resplendent in ancient Egyptian attire. Ancient Egypt is coming back. Here in Tahrir which once hosted Islamists calling for destruction of Egyptian heritage, Egypt today shines. Good save Egypt and Sisi who worked to recover her identity and history!”
Back to Egyptian roots
Blogger Mina Magdy was among those who celebrated Egypt’s pharaonic identity. “Very happy with Egypt going back to her roots today! This is Egypt and these are the Egyptians. We are the descendants of Mena, Ramses, Thutmoses, and Hatshepsut. We are Egyptian not Arab. We carry a legacy of culture, arts, science, astronomy; but more important, of values, ethics, principles, and triumphs.”
Again: “Proud to be Egyptian!”
4 April 2021