After a week of apparently endless disasters, and what seemed as though the curse of the pharaohs had finally set in, a euphoric stretch followed, a few days that could not have compensated Egyptians for their earlier endurance in any better way.
For six long days, a crisis of global ramifications hovered over Egypt as the container ship Ever Given got grounded in the Suez Canal. Speculators from around the globe doubted Egypt’s ability and know-how in refloating the stranded ship and predicted a lengthy period before the Suez Canal would reopen its waters to travelling vessels. Some anticipated economic repercussions, such as fuel and food shortages, high freight rates and a shudder in the global economy.
Crises come in threes. The grounding of the Ever Given was soon followed by the collision of two trains in Sohag killing over 19 people and injuring hundreds of others. The pictures from the wreckage had people reeling in despair. Then came the collapse of a building in Gesr Al-Suez in Cairo that killed 18 innocent souls and injured many others.
It was a week of doom and gloom, and many Egyptians walked around with heavy and foreboding hearts. Some even asked themselves if the pharaohs’ curse, “death will come on quick wings for those who disturb the king’s peace,” engraved on King Tutankhamun tomb, was befalling Egypt.
They wondered about plans to move the ancient Egyptian Royal Mummies from their resting place in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Some said that the officials concerned should have thought twice, for the omen cast upon anyone who disturbs the mummies of ancient Egypt seemed to be alive and well.
Well, we were all soon afterwards rewarded with extraordinary events that showed that the curse was mute and that helped everyone to overcome the sense of dismay that had ripped through the community a week earlier.
The refloating of the Ever Given, a massive container ship that had seemed rooted in place, came after six days of round-the-clock efforts. Dredgers, tugboats and hardworking men were put to good use to move it, and they did so. It was a happy day as the ship moved slowly along, breaking away from the canal’s banks as Suez Canal Authority workers looked on in jubilation. They celebrated and cheered, hailing themselves and their dredgers by name and honking their vessel horns in joy. They patted themselves on the back as a worldwide economic crisis was thwarted. People at large were ecstatic, and finally relief set in.
The Ever Given awaits inspection in Egypt’s Bitter Lakes, and some estimate that Egypt will seek around $1 billion in compensation for losses linked to the cost of equipment and labour during the dredging and salvage efforts and any damage to the banks of the Suez Canal.
Then came an event like no other. On Saturday 3 April, Cairo’s streets witnessed the unprecedented and once-in-a-lifetime majestic procession of the Golden Parade. This transferred the mummies of 18 ancient Egyptian kings and four queens from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Fustat five km away in Old Cairo. In chronological order of their historical reigns, the king and queens of several ancient Egyptian dynasties travelled through Cairo to their new residence.
An event of equal magnitude may never have taken place in Egypt before, or even in the entire world. Each of the transferred kings and queens had lived a rich and far-reaching life filled with the kind of progress and development hardly imaginable by today’s standards. Many of them had fought for Egypt and died for it, too, so their transfer had to befit their regal status and the importance in which they are held. This was indeed the case.
The route of the kings and queens to the new abode had undergone a huge transformation, and the two museums stood in all their glamour and dignity. The area around the NMEC, opened in 2017, had been prepared for the event, paving the way for the renovation of the entire district around the museum and the road leading up to it, and allowing the kings and queens to be welcomed to a glorious and pristine environment worthy of their honour and glory.
Many of the areas through which the parade passed had been refurbished and restored. Buildings along the procession route had been freshly painted and lit up for the parade. As for the iconic Tahrir Square, adorned with an obelisk of King Ramses II and four rams, it was illuminated with special lights in greeting to the kings and queens. It had finally reached the state in which it should have been all along. Tahrir Square and Cairo as a whole were looking at their best.
After a 45-minute journey through the city, the ancient kings and queens were received at the NMEC with a 21-gun salute and by Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
Months, even years, of hard work may have gone into organising this meticulously crafted event, enveloped in the most breathtaking details such that it appeared in this exquisite fashion. It was a perfectly synchronised show exhibiting the love and dedication of artists, musicians, performers, designers and thousands of operators. The attires, the music, the dances, the songs and the tone and flavour of the whole show befitted its historical grandeur. The intention was clear: to produce a show equal to the royal status of the ancient kings and queens, and this was indeed realised.
People heeded the advice to stay at home to watch the parade in its entirety on television, instead of seeing only glimpses of it had they filled the streets to watch it live. They watched it spellbound.
The Egyptian people now need to pat themselves on the back, for the refloating of the Ever Given and the Golden Parade are events that prove that they are capable of performing wonders. Today, they are more than ever deserving of enjoying these positive vibes.
*The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly