As the rest of the world watched Saturday night’s Pharaohs Golden Parade in amazement, Egyptians were reinvigorated with new nationalistic pride, as the country of more than 100 million people faces significant challenges.
The parade involved the relocation of 22 royal mummies from Tahrir Square’s historic Egyptian Museum to their new home at Islamic Cairo’s newly inaugurated National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.
The procession, which was nothing short of lavish, reportedly cost the Egyptian government millions of dollars, garnering largely positive reviews from around the world.
The much-anticipated event was announced last year as a landmark step towards revamping Egypt’s ailing tourism sector, showcasing to audiences around the world that Egypt is safe and more than equipped to welcome tourists.
In the wake of the procession, social media erupted with nationalistic pride as Egyptians were overwhelmed by compliments from awestruck onlookers around the world.
"It was great! I got very emotional while watching. I am super proud of what we did. The whole thing was absolutely impressive. Goosebumps all over," explained Aya Sayed, 25, an Egyptian social media influencer, to The National.
The parade was certainly designed to play on spectators’ heartstrings and quieten residual national anxieties over a recent blockage in the Suez Canal, and the ongoing struggle with Ethiopia over Egypt’s vital share of the Nile’s waters.
Patriotism has been a cornerstone of the Sisi administration’s political discourse, and the parade further emphasised this point.
A lineup of famous names
The parade featured a moving performance by the United Philharmonic Orchestra, which included 120 musicians and 100 singers performing a new composition by Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih.
The star power was all the more pronounced by the participation of Arab A-list celebrities who made speeches about the importance of Egypt’s cultural history and the significance of its ancient civilizational roots.
“There was a huge amount of research that went into the parade. Every detail had to be right, from the hieroglyphs on the mummy vehicles to the spelling of the royals’ names,” says Arto Belekdanian, an Egyptologist at the tourism ministry’s science division.
"Egypt certainly needed a win after the debacles in the Suez Canal, the Sohag train accident, and the building collapse" says Zeina Aly, 30, a visual artist based in Cairo.
While most people agree that the money spent on the parade is warranted, since it will drum up tourism revenue down the line, others felt that the funds would have been better spent on dealing with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
"This money could have been used on developing our hospitals, or opening more Covid-19 vaccination centres, or even providing PCR testing free of charge," asserts Hazem Fouad, a senior business development officer based in Cairo.
However long it might take to recoup the expenditure through tourism revenue, there's little doubt that onlookers were impressed by a re-vamped Cairo.
The Pharaonic extravaganza saw the streets on the parade’s route, between the typically congested areas of downtown Cairo and Old Cairo, completely revamped for the event, receiving a fresh coat of paint and installed with light fixtures that made for an exciting spectacle.
The newly-opened National Museum of Egyptian Civilization - the mummies’ new resting place - was inaugurated this month after a two-year national restoration project for the Ain Al Seera area of Fustat, which includes a small lake which the museum sits on the banks of.
Ain Al Seera was a densely populated slum in 2019, but it has since been cleared and rebuilt as part of the government’s efforts to promote tourism in Islamic Cairo.
Securing the mummies’ path through the streets of Cairo reportedly required some residents in the area to vacate their homes for a short time as a security measure which was a major point of contention for the more cynical members of Egypt’s Twitterati.
“Yes, there were sacrifices that had to be made. But all progress has its casualties,” said Karim Deifallah, 34.
The mummies’s exhibit will open to the public on April 18 following minor restoration work.
Each mummy is set to be displayed alongside the coffin it was found in a special exhibit designed to look like the ancient Egyptian conception of the afterlife, with walls painted black and adorned with funereal incantations.