A royal procession thousands of years in the making.
Amidst tight security befitting the royal attendance, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al Sisi watched over a lavish celebratory procession of pharaohs - perhaps the symbolism was a bit too on the nose.
In 2018, Sisi won the presidential elections by 97.3 percent, a tally that the Pharaohs wouldn’t have been ashamed to garner.
The million dollar display, however, wasn’t just a tourist advertisement aimed at the outside world in which 22 past pharaohs were transported to a newly inaugurated museum. It’s also a story the country’s elite wants to tell its people.
“This ancient Egyptian civilisation was the pioneer of civility. It knew before anyone how to build a strong state. The foundation of which is science, knowledge and faith. The great Egypt with the greatest civilization that was the gift to all mankind," said the Egyptian announcer as the ‘Golden Parade’ of Pharaohs was underway.
Academics in the past have noted the use of the Pharaonic past by the modern nation state as a crutch to support Egyptian nationalism.
While Islam and being Arab still exerts a powerful influence on Egyptian identity, the modern state has not been shy about creating the idea of one continous state reaching thousands of years into the past.
In light of the procession on the weekend, some noted the potential contradiction inherent in the procession and the country’s broader Islamic identity.
“Egypt will condemn the cruelty of the pharaohs from the pulpit of the mosques and churches then rush out to the streets to celebrate the greatness of the pharaohs,” said Amro Ali a sociologist with a focus on the Arab world.
“Biblical and Quranic views tend to treat the idea of pharaoh as the epitome of human evil. Contemporary Egypt in its quest for identity, modernity, and nation building has yet to reconcile the contradictions of employing pharaoh on both the religious and nationalist spectrum,” added Ali.
Egypt will condemn the cruelty of the pharaohs from the pulpit of the mosques and churches then rush out to the streets to celebrate the greatness of the pharaohs.— Amro Ali (@_amroali) April 4, 2021
Consecutive leaders in modern Egypt have had to deal with the unflattering comparison, not without merit, of operating in a pharaonic fashion.
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed after widespread protests heralding the Arab Spring, faced such comparisons.
Some observers celebrated the “movie” like display which could have easily been a scene from an Indian Jones movie or even Mummy Returns.
One Egyptian describing herself “as a granddaughter of the pharaohs” found the display to be a wholesome welcome to those wishing to come and visit the country.
Another observer described the parade unironically as providing a “feeling [that] you are back to Pharaohs era.” Many Egyptians might agree, albeit for different reasons.
Egypt has launched gala parade of 22 of its prized royal mummies from Cairo to their new resting place.— TRT World (@trtworld) April 3, 2021
Dubbed the “Pharaohs’ Golden Parade”, the 18 kings and four queens have travelled in order, oldest first, each aboard a separate float decorated in ancient Egyptian style pic.twitter.com/ma1eRkcLBU