On Saturday, April 3rd, Cairo witnessed the rare majestic ceremony of the Golden Parade. Twenty-two royal mummies of Pharaoh kings and queens got transferred from the Egyptian Museum, in Tahrir Square, Downtown Cairo, to the National Museum of the Egyptian Civilisations (NMEC), in the Old Cairo district.
The glory of the event, which dazzled eyes worldwide, was not only derived from the uniqueness of the ancient Egyptian civilization. Showcasing the multiple civilizations absorbed by the Egyptian people, over thousands of years, without affecting their original Egyptian identity, was the most inspiring part of the whole event.
During the transfer of the royal mummies, a number of prominent actors and actresses explored the history of civilizations that left their footprints on the Egyptian soil, since the time of the Pharaohs up to this day.
That included the coexistence, that extended for long centuries, between the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, before the appearance of political and religious prejudices, particularly in the mid-twentieth century, which caused severe tears in the unique Egyptian fabric.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the political and economic setbacks that Egypt suffered during the second half of the twentieth century are due to the negative changes that happened to the tolerant mindset of the Egyptians.
In the 1910s-1940s, Egypt’s capital city of Cairo, and the northern coastal city of Alexandria, were hub for intellectual and artistic exchange between European, Arab, and African cultures. While the world wars were mercilessly destroying Europe, Egypt was flourishing under the lights of what is historically known as the liberal era of modern Egypt.
However, the emergence of extremist political Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s and the Salafist movement in the 1970s, in addition to the regional geopolitical conflicts in neighboring grounds, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Sunni-Shiite conflicts in the Gulf and Levant regions, forced a detrimental transformation in the tolerant Egyptian mindset.
The extremist ideology promoted by the political Islamists, and later translated into violent jihadi operations by Salafists, threatened the safety and well-being of the Egyptian Coptic Christians and put them under unbearable social and political pressures for decades. Meanwhile, the emergence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the 1940s, exposed the Egyptian Jews as an easy target to the newly-founded Egyptian state, at that time, which used its extremely biased Arab nationalist ideology, to unjustly discriminate against the Egyptian Jews, and shamefully force most of them to leave the country.
Since he got elected in 2014, Egypt’s President El-Sisi has shown unparalleled dedication to improving the status of religious freedom, as a tool to combat violent extremism and restore peace, security, and stability to the country. President El-Sisi came to power during a period of extreme chaos and insecurity purposefully ordained by the Muslim Brotherhood to avenge their removal from power, in June 2013.
By never hesitating to take shocking steps towards reviving the Jewish and Christian heritage of Egypt, and pressuring Al-Azhar for renovating the Islamic extremist rhetoric, El-Sisi managed to re-awaken the public mindset of religious and cultural tolerance, which has always been the secret ingredient for Egypt’s gloriousness, over its long history.
As one recent example, in February, the Ministry of Education approved educating a new school curriculum, to primary and mid-school students, that explores the religious texts and common values of the three Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Jewish religious texts have not been taught in Egyptian schools, since the Nasser era.
During the transfer of the royal mummies, on Saturday, the famous Egyptian actor Khaled Nabawy explored the recently renovated monumental warship houses from the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic eras. That included the renovation of the 14th century Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria, in 2020; the renovation of the 4th century Abu Serga Church in Cairo, in 2016; and the 2017 restoration of the Museum of Islamic Art, which was bombed by violent elements of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2014.
Nabawy concluded his outstanding presentation of Egypt’s religious tolerance by saying: “on this land, every day, people have always been free to practice their beliefs.” Under this inspiration, let’s work harder to bring Egypt back into being the land where every human can freely practice their belief. This is, perhaps, the secret of how Egypt maintained a great civilization, over thousands of years.