The glamour of ancient Egyptian civilisation has never left the collective imagination of every nation, particularly in the West. Countless movies, TV shows, novels and even comics have depicted a vision of what ancient Egyptian civilisation may have looked like, with some TV and movie creators envisioning the ancient Egyptians in various ways, including in ridiculous ones such as depicting them as an alien race.
Appropriating the ancient Egyptian civilisation has been done by writers and theorists on a large scale, and it seems that each of them has wanted to have a say in theorising the origin of the ancient Egyptians and their civilisation.
However, on 3 April the world got a rare glimpse of how the modern Egyptians portray their ancient civilisation through the astounding and momentous Pharaohs Golden Parade, a national celebration of the official inauguration of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Fustat that saw the transportation of 22 mummies of some of ancient Egypt’s greatest kings and queens from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in a procession to the new state-of-the-art museum.
The process was accomplished in the most glamorous manner, and, presenting the perfect tribute to ancient Egypt’s great kings and queens, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi himself officially inaugurated the new museum and waited at the main door as the mummies arrived at their new resting place after they had remained for over a century in the older museum in Tahrir Square.
The splendour of the event went far beyond anyone’s imagination, except perhaps among those brilliant Egyptian minds that had organised and orchestrated this once-in-lifetime event. The message resounded across the world at a difficult time in modern history when it is facing its most arduous challenge since World War II in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amidst all the lockdowns and riots caused by economic hardship in many Western capitals and major cities, Cairo stood out in all its glory, sparkling in front of the cameras of the international press and media. Cairo’s famous Tahrir Square has seen a lot of renovation over the past two years, and an ancient Egyptian obelisk has been erected in its centre after its full restoration, decorated by new lights and surrounded by four rams from the Karnak Temple complex in Luxor.
Following the parade, a rejuvenated sense of patriotism and Egyptian nationalism spread like wildfire through the crowds and those watching the event on television, dominating the show and its aftermath. The splendour of the occasion lifted the spirits of all Egyptian citizens who have endured a long war on terrorism accompanied by economic reforms that are now paying dividends.
A lavish show such as this one commemorates these sacrifices and the hard work initiated by the ambitious economic programme planned by President Al-Sisi. Thanks to these reforms, Egypt has been able to withstand the onslaught of the coronavirus and its economic repercussions, even managing to make substantial economic gains to the surprise of some economists.
The parade was a chance for all Egyptians to get in touch with their true identity, which has faced attempts at being appropriated by other cultures or dissolved into foreign ones. It featured music presented by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra led by brilliant Egyptian composer and conductor Nader Abbassi and the angelic voices of singers of the calibre of soprano Amira Selim. The latter delivered an astounding performance in the ancient Egyptian language, singing texts from the Book of the Dead to accompany the transport of the ancient Egyptian kings and queens to the new museum in Fustat.
Scores of dancers and performers delivered what was the most astounding live show in Egypt’s modern history, with ancient Egyptian colours dominating the whole in gold, blue and white. A plethora of Egyptian celebrities contributed to the massive event through clips that added further value to the celebrations. The famous Egyptian singer Mohamed Munir performed a special song for the event on the banks of the Nile.
The political impact of the event was extremely positive, aside from the 400 international TV networks broadcasting parts of the parade. Social media and the Internet in general were brimming with activity and positive messages about what was going on in Egypt on the night of the parade, making it the number one hashtag on social media. People across the world were able to watch in amazement how the Egyptians themselves present their ancient civilisation away from shoddy Hollywood productions.
Through this event, Egypt has reclaimed its position as a major world cultural centre, with people all over the world acknowledging that without ancient Egypt, Western civilisation as we know it today could never have existed. The influence of Egypt on ancient Greek and Roman civilisation is well known, but Saturday’s event acted as a reminder of this historical fact.
Moreover, the manner in which the parade was presented in an ultra-modern fashion mixed with a beloved ancient Egypt theme made the perfect mix and represented the way in which Egypt should now present itself. Older images of Egypt as a dusty or rundown country, the kind of thing that has been popular in some Western movies, have been diminished by this real image of what Egypt really looks like. Egypt’s main cities have always been metropolises, from its ancient capital of Thebes to its current capital of Cairo.
The fantasy elements that have dominated Western movies showing Egypt over the years have been harmful to the country’s image and especially to its tourism sector, even if these depictions were sometimes entertaining for cinema audiences or among certain types of tourists. These movies, made for commercial ends and not shot in Egypt, but instead in studios or villages in Morocco or Tunisia, have presented a tarnished image of the country.
But Egypt presented to the world by Egyptians is the right way to declare the rebirth of an old nation fighting to take its rightful place in the modern world. The Egyptian government has shown that it is more than capable of organising events of the highest calibre through purely Egyptian talent and organisation. That message is to be added to last week’s reopening of the Suez Canal in just six days after the massive cargo vessel the Ever Given was stuck in the middle of the southern part of the canal in a gargantuan undertaking that was the greatest of its kind in modern history.
The Egyptian authorities now need to seize the moment and capitalise on the positive impact created by both events on all levels, especially concerning the tourism industry which has been witnessing its worst-ever period worldwide. The tourism market is in transition, and Egypt is a stable and powerful country that is open to tourists of all kinds. It is among the safest countries in the world in terms of security and healthcare and other indicators.
Before 2013 and for a few years afterwards, Egypt’s image was associated in the minds of some with chaos, economic hardships and terrorist attacks orchestrated by the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group. Fast forward to 2021 and Egypt now has a completely different image, thanks to some stellar economic planning and the sacrifices of its men in uniform, members of the Egyptian police and army who have eliminated the terrorist threat in the country once and for all.
The hard work done by Egyptians over the past seven years is now paying off, and the world, which last weekend saw something of Egypt’s grandeur, is recognising this fact.
*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly