March of the mummies: Egypt prepares to parade historical riches

Egyptians urged to watch procession on television as country resumes efforts to save stricken tourism industry

Nearly two dozen mummified pharaonic kings and queens will travel from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum to a new home across the city on Saturday, in a made-for-television parade featuring carriages, motorcycle riders, horses and local film stars.

The earthly remains of some of ancient Egypt’s best-known rulers, including Queen Hatshepsut, kings Ramses II and III, King Seti I and kings Thutmose III and IV, will travel through the Egyptian capital in an hour-long extravaganza.

Billed as a once-in-a-lifetime event, the televised procession is intended to remind the world of Egypt’s historical treasures at a time when the country’s vital tourism industry is being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic for a second consecutive year.

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This is the kind of promotion that you cannot get even if you spend millions of dollars... There will not be a single household in America, Europe and Japan that will not watch the parade on television

There are plans for the parade to be broadcast live in 60 countries. “Our aim is to be simultaneously present in every home across the world,” said Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El Anany.

Zahi Hawass, perhaps the world's best-known Egyptologist, echoed the minister's sentiment with a touch of his trademark hyperbole.

“This is the kind of promotion that you cannot get even if you spend millions of dollars,” he said. “There will not be a single household in America, Europe and Japan that will not watch the parade on television.”

The full details of the parade have not been publicised in an effort to keep everyone guessing, but officials leaked some features of the event.

The mummies will leave the 119-year-old Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on vehicles modified to look like large pharaonic chariots.

The procession will circle the square, where a 19-metre-tall obelisk and four sphinx-like statues with lion's bodies and the heads of rams will be revealed for the first time since they were taken there last year.

Horse and motorcycle riders will then lead the parade to the Nile Corniche in the upmarket Garden City district before moving south to Fustat, the site of the country's medieval capital built during the Arab conquest of Egypt 1,400 years ago.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 17, 2021, Egyptologist Zahi Hawass poses for a picture during the official announcement of the discovery by an archaeological mission he leads of a new trove of treasures at Egypt's Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo. The mummies of 18 ancient Egyptian kings and four queens will be paraded through the streets of Cairo on April 3 evening, in a carnival procession dubbed the Pharaohs' Golden Parade, as they are moved from a long residency at the Egyptian Museum to be put on display at southern Cairo's National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation. / AFP / Khaled DESOUKI

Fustat is home to the imposing ruins of a Byzantine fort, the ancient Hanging Church, the Coptic Museum and the Amr Ibn Al As Mosque, Egypt’s first mosque, named after the Arab general who led the conquering Muslim army.

More recently, Fustat became home to the National Egyptian Civilisation Museum, a sprawling, 13.5-hectare complex partially opened in 2017 that will now be the final resting place for the 22 mummies. A pavilion there has been set aside for the mummies, which will not go on public display until April 18.

Reflecting ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife, the parade will pass through 12 gates built especially for the occasion.

“They are part of the royal journey to the next world,” said Mustafa Al Waziri, chief of the state Supreme Antiquities Council.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is expected to be at the museum when the mummies arrive to a 21-gun salute – a fitting greeting for the earthly remains of Egypt's ancient royals.

Members of the public in Egypt are being urged repeatedly to stay home and watch the parade on television rather than go out into the streets and see it for themselves.

The authorities hope the television coverage planned will be enough to keep Egyptians glued to their screens.

Said to involve nearly 50 cameras set up around the country, the coverage will also include pre-recorded segments featuring some of Egypt’s biggest film stars shot at locations across the country.

"If you go out on the street to watch, you will catch just one minute of the parade," Mr El Waziri said.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 27, 2007, the mummified remains of Queen Hatshepsut, ancient Egypt's most famous female pharaoh, lie in a glass case after being unveiled at the Cairo Museum. The mummies of 18 ancient Egyptian kings and four queens will be paraded through the streets of Cairo on April 3 evening, in a carnival procession dubbed the Pharaohs' Golden Parade, as they are moved from a long residency at the Egyptian Museum to be put on display at southern Cairo's National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation. / AFP / Cris BOURONCLE

Egyptian film star Hussein Fahmy, appearing in a slick television promotion for the parade, said: “It is a rare event that happens once in a lifetime.”

Speaking from inside the Egyptian Museum, he said: “It is a historic event taking place on Egypt’s soil – the Egypt with great history and home to the most glorious civilisation known to mankind.”

Bringing Egypt's tourism industry back to life

The procession is part of a concerted effort to wow the world and revive the country’s ailing tourism sector, which analysts say made up about 15 per cent of gross domestic product before the pandemic.

Egypt welcomed about 13 million visitors in 2019, earning the country about $1 billion a month. But widespread travel restrictions meant only three million visitors made it to the country last year.

A series of spectacular archaeological finds in recent months, including the discovery of more than 100 pristine sarcophagi and gilded statues of ancient deities in the Saqqara necropolis, attracted intense media attention.

The parade is taking place only days after Egypt was in the news round the clock after an ultra-large container ship ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking the vital waterway, affecting world trade and hurting the country's image.

epa09091945 A general view of the Egyptian Museum at the Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, 23 March 2021. Egypt is preparing for the transportation of a total of 22 royal mummies belonging to ancient Egyptian kings and queens from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the Museum of Civilization scheduled for 03 April.  EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

The vessel was re-floated on Monday and traffic in the waterway has since resumed, sending the country deep into a self-congratulatory mood not seen in years.

Curiously, the jubilation left everyone from President El Sisi and television talk show hosts down to ordinary Egyptians marvelling about the silver lining in the crisis, with the Egyptian leader saying the incident had helped to dispel talk about alternative sea routes to the canal once and for all.

If it goes off without a hitch, Saturday’s parade will lift the already upbeat mood in this country of 100 million people.

Read more about Ancient Egypt:

You can now take virtual tours of historic Egyptian archaeological sites

Huge archaeological find in Egypt includes 50 mummies and a temple

Egyptology isn't just about what we find, but who finds it – and why

Egypt unearths dozens of 2,500-year-old coffins in major discovery

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