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Monday, 30 November 2020

Mervat Abdel-Nasser: It’s all about keen observation

As the annual Thoth’s festival Egypt’s Wisdom Heritage is about to take place on 28th of October, Ahram Online talked to the woman behind the idea

Amira Noshokaty , Tuesday 20 Oct 2020
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At the entrance of her very own new Hermopolis, in Malawi Minya the eye is greeted by authentic architecture cabins embroidered  with flowers overlooking a lotus pond. The ground is decorated with the inspiring words of French writer and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

“Your temple will draw them to it like a magnet and in its silence they will search for their souls and find themselves,” wisdom of the sands, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Adopting the same line of thought , consultant psychiatrist, researcher in Egyptology and writer Dr Mervat Abdel-Nasser came back to Egypt in 2007 to revive the concept of the village of creativity like that of the city of Hermopolis, in her new Hermopolis only a few kilometers apart.

“A Village of creativity, an antidote for dogma, hatred and extremism, under the belief in the creative potential in every human being," said Mervat Abdel-Nasser.

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Photo by Amira Noshokaty

Born into an Egyptian middle class family, Abdel-Nasser’s father was a surgeon who died in the 1973 war, leaving her with a great sense of belonging to her country. She grew up living in between both her parents' house in El-Manial district by the Nile and her grandparents' house in the Fustat area, home to Cairo’s oldest pottery market place.

“I grew up between the clay and the Nile and I was fascinated by both ever since," she laughed as she remembered how the ancient district of Fustat with all its monasteries, churches and mosques was an inspiration to her.“It was then when I realized that the world is made up like a little mosaic forming a bigger picture,” she added.

Abdel-Nasser was also a passionate reader. The ‘A grade’ student used to read anything she could find, even the wrapping paper of the sweet potatoes that she used to eat on her daily walks home by the El-Manial Cornish. Back then, when Tharwat Okasha was the minister of education, real culture was flourishing. Abdel-Nasser was first introduced to the literary works of prominent cultural icons such as Taymour in her classroom library when she was at primary school. By the time she finished school, she had also finished reading the works of multiple pillars of Egyptian literature such as that of Naguib Mahfouz.  

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photo by Amira Noshokaty

In the seventies, she travelled to England to study psychology and ancient Egyptian history. During the course of 30 years, she had attained and practiced her degrees, wrote over 40 books for children affiliated with intangible heritage, and then went back home in 2007 with an idea of dedicating a whole village to knowledge and creativity.The new Hermopolis philosophy connects to the roots of Hermopolis, as explained in Abdel-Nasser’s latest book titled: The Path to the New Hermopolis, second edition Rubedo Press 2020.

“Thoth or Tehuti was the lord of divine words who invented the hieroglyphs and who put thought and speech into form, encapsulating the “information” of the world into words,” read the bookThoth, the author of the Book of Thoth (first century B.C) which is said to have eternal wisdom, is also the author of the Hermetica philosophical writings that were written in Hermopolis.

Archeologically, Hermopolis dates back to the old kingdom and even to the first dynasty. However “it enjoyed its vogue in Hellenistic Egypt when it was taken as a prototype of the cosmic city where different cultures and races could meet and cohabit peacefully. This state of cultural fusion is beautifully depicted on the walls of the famous Petostris tomb in Tuna El-Gabal, where the scenes show Egyptian, Greek and even Persian influences,” explained the book.

The Hermetic philosophy had its impact on the whole world and inspired iconic thinkers and philosophers throughout the ages. Hence came Abdel-Nasser’s idea to create a New-Hermopolis to revive such a dynamic cultural thinking tank that she views as the perfect antidote for fundamentalism.

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photo by Amira Noshokaty

To Abdel-Nasser the greatness of the Ancient Egyptian civilization lies in keen observation. “Take the Scarlet Beatle, which is the main symbol of the Egyptian Civilization: The Scarlet Beatle digs deep tunnels into the dirt to coat her eggs with dust, and when they hatch, life comes out of dead dust, like resurrection, constant cycle of birth and rebirth, of life."

Despite the fact that Hermatic ideas taught the world indeed, Goethe, Thomas More and Shakespeare to name but a few.  Unfortunately, it  had little direct resonance on modern Egyptian thinking, as Abdel-Nasser explains. “With the exception of Taha Hussien who paid in 1944, some 400 Egyptian pounds to save the manuscripts of Naga Hamadi, made Thoth, the symbol of Cairo University, and believed that the only way forward is through revisiting ancient Egypt."

Abdel-Nasser also highlights the concept of evolution and transformation that comes with it, which is the core of ancient Egyptian civilization. The mythological figures of Hermopolis, are a set of eight, frogs and snakes because they are subliminal beings who can live in various environments.

“They evolve, reflecting the alchemy of being, the art of transformation. That’s why I decided to revive the concept of the city of knowledge, in the heart of Egypt, next to old Hermopolis, a place to allow the alchemical transformation of the self, for the person is a an unfinished work in progress – until the day they die.”

Abdel-Nasser’s new Hermopolis shall be the first of its kind, a ‘village of creativity’ as she calls it. Where she aims to attract creative artists and thinkers and revive the concept of old Hermopolis. Every October, she hosts the annual Thoth festival to connect the new generation with their roots of wisdom.

“The cosmos is one, and so is man, for like the cosmos, he is whole made up of different diverse parts," read the Egyptian-Greek wisdom texts Hermetica.

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