Egypt sent a host of messages to the world when on 3 April it organised the Pharaohs Golden Parade to move 22 Royal Mummies from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Fustat.
These messages included the idea that with its competent people and wise leadership, Egypt was able to hold this magnanimous event and make international headlines, proving to the world that “Egypt can do it.” The messages said that Egypt respects its heritage and the legacy of our ancestors and that for long centuries Egypt has held a prominent place in history, being in fact the place where civilisation, medicine, art and monotheism began.
Other messages said that Egypt is safe and its president, government and people are defending it against terrorism. The country is open for tourism, investment and cooperation on common interests. The UN cultural organisation UNESCO, in its Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, has called for respecting the plurality of identities. Egypt has underlined this respect, since we are proud of all the periods Egypt has lived through, and we respect them and work on reviving their landmark heritage, whether Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Coptic, Islamic or Arabic. In the ancient Egyptian language, Egypt means “the fortress,” and it has shown itself to be just that.
Egypt has shown that civilisations do not “clash,” but rather that they complement each other. The country has embraced different cultures and civilisations and has been impacted by them and has influenced them in turn. However, it has still maintained an independent Egyptian identity, much like Mahatma Gandhi meant when he said that “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”
The awe-inspiring Pharaohs Golden Parade was a breath of fresh air that restored to hearts and minds the urge to go back to the enlightened Egyptian identity that protects people from the West’s material and discriminatory practices as well as from the rigidity, backwardness, and Salafism that lead to discrimination, deeming other atheists or even killing them.
The Egyptian identity should be restored to invest what it has to offer in terms of values, sciences and civilisation, the full secrets of which the world is yet to discover. The values of peace, love, justice and solidarity on which our heritage and culture are built are recorded on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples and inscribed on coffins. These are values that religions promote, and our ancestors remind us of them.
Many people at home and abroad were touched when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi received the ancient Egyptian mummies at their new residence in Fustat. He stood at the entrance to the NMEC Museum alone to salute his forefathers. The minister of tourism and antiquities was also commended for referring to the efforts of his predecessors on the night of the parade.
Preserving Egyptian identity requires acknowledging its principles. Defining Egypt’s heritage is a matter of national security. If people learn about Egypt’s history and what it has offered to the world, they will not harm it or its people.
However, unfortunately some foreigners know more about Egypt’s history and heritage than some young Egyptians. This is not the fault of the young people in question, however. It is the fault of the education system, which, though it has improved, still has not paid heritage its due.
Teaching young people about their heritage and restoring their identity is a joint responsibility in which several parties must take part, and it also requires political commitment.
The present writer has proposed to Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar that Egyptian students be taught about the wealth of ancient Egyptian heritage, each in their own area of specialisation.
For example, students in the first year at the Faculty of Medicine would learn about ancient Egypt’s advances in medicine. The first operation on a damaged turbinate in the skull was performed in Egypt more than 5,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians excelled in optical treatment with methods still used today. When the father of the ruler Qaraqosh experienced a disease in his eyes, he insisted that he be treated by ancient Egyptian doctors. A wall painting in the tomb of Ipwy, a master builder, shows an oculist treating a patient who has a cataract in one eye. Drawings on the walls of temples also reveal the fact that the ancient Egyptians used physical therapy to treat polio by means of dance and music.
Another example concerns engineering students, who would learn about the greatness of their ancestors by studying their advances in the fields of construction and architecture. The Pharaohs constructed the first stone buildings in the world. They built palaces, temples, tombs and obelisks using a unique architectural style such that the buildings remain standing to this day. They built the Pyramids, which are an architectural and administrative miracle.
Do those who study, teach or practise agriculture today know that when their ancestors settled on the banks of the Nile to escape the heat of the desert they discovered agriculture? Using science and astronomy, they learnt the secrets of the floods and the seasons of plantation, invented the first Nilometer and excelled in planting cotton and dates.
Do students know that our forefathers’ focus on agriculture was the step preceding industrialisation? The ancient Egyptians made agricultural tools, such as axes, before manufacturing furniture or vehicles. They made medicine from plants, fabric and premium linen, and they excelled in the manufacture of cosmetics, clothes and jewellery that dazzle people to this day.
Law students should know about the distinguished system adopted by ancient Egypt’s judiciary. There were strict instructions to judges to ensure integrity and justice, such as “swear by justice before you ask those whom you are judging to swear to the truth,” “allying with one side against the other is an abomination,” and “you hold people accountable for their deeds in this world, and the gods will hold you accountable for your judgements in the hereafter.”
The ancient Egyptians had litigation and accountability methods, whether during life or after departure. The god Osiris would be at the head of the courtroom and with him was Thoth, the god of knowledge, and Maat, the goddess of justice. In front of Osiris was a balance, on one of whose plates lay the heart of the deceased and on the other a Maat feather. The judges would then ask questions to determine the fate of the deceased.
Do students of the arts know about the wealth of Pharaonic painting, singing, dancing and drawing? The ancient Egyptian priest and historian Manetho said that “nations perish from the lack of knowledge and wars against the arts. If you want to strike a country in its present and future, strike its art.”
Furthermore, the world’s first recorded constitution was drafted in ancient Egypt. It determined behaviour, values and principles. It is considered the first document on human rights, and it should be read by every student and citizen interested to know and learn.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly