Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Egypt’s Antiquities Minister on the Pharaoh of the Exodus | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in Egypt, Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, asserted that he would never allow the analysis of King Ramses II’s mummy to confirm whether or not he was the long-disputed Pharaoh of the Exodus. Ibrahim said: “What is being rumored in this context is utterly non-scientific and not founded on any sort of evidence”.

In an exclusive interview conducted with the minister in his Zamalek-based office in Cairo, Mohammed Ibrahim stated that Ramses II’s mummy had previously been flown to the French capital of Paris during the 1980s to analyze the water within it, and try to treat the artifact. “But to speak now of the mummy’s examination and analysis is a matter I can never allow because Ramses II is not the Pharaoh of the Exodus and we should not build upon wrong assumptions in the first place.”

Ibrahim cited evidence for his argument with verses from the Holy Quran and the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, especially the 14th Chapter. “The scenario and sequence of events clearly show that Ramses II could have never been the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Based on several given facts and not just one piece of information, inferences have been drawn concluding that the Pharaoh of the Exodus ruled toward the end of the 19th Dynasty. The facts confirm that Ramses II’s reign did not witness any state of unrest, contrary to what is widely known about the Pharaoh of the Exodus’s reign. Moreover, Ramses II’s rule was marked by power and construction. Hence, we can’t say that either Ramses II or his successor Merneptah was the Pharaoh of the Exodus.”

Regarding the allegation that the Grand Egyptian Museum – currently under construction on the Cairo–Alexandria desert road – has a design featuring the Star of David, thereby not expressing Egyptian identity, Dr. Ibrahim asserted that “This argument is groundless. From a geometric point of view, it is utterly invalid. And from an archeological point of view, the formation and direction of the exhibits is yet to be conclusively decided, for those that say they will face Jerusalem. For example, some have alleged that the statue of Ramses II will be displayed in a certain fashion towards a specific direction.”

Dr. Ibrahim added that there was no prearranged plan to display the antiquities in a particular manner expressing a precise orientation. “Actually, I am amazed at the link between these claims and the argument that Ramses II is the Pharaoh of the Exodus. This is a completely baseless argument, and there is no scientific evidence whatsoever corroborating that, as I mentioned earlier.”

Regarding the eternal controversy in Egypt about Egyptian antiquities exhibitions being staged abroad, Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim maintained that “those (exhibitions) are organized in accordance with the law which allows [certain] antiquities to travel abroad. The only exceptions are the unique and unparalleled pieces which are protected and preserved by heightened security measures. Through their sharpened skills and expert abilities, archeologists can identify cloned pieces no matter how accurate and precise the forgery is. Moreover, we have an electronic fingerprint for every archeological piece.”

Dr. Ibrahim revealed that his ministry is currently studying the possibility of tracking antiquities via satellites, stating that “we are looking to cooperate with a foreign partner to implement this.” However, he declined to disclose its details, stressing that they were highly confidential.

Dr. Ibrahim has refused to engage in overseas battles in order to restore the most precious antiquities that Egypt had always yearned for their return. The most notable of such pieces are the renowned Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, and the famous Nefertiti bust on display in the Berlin Museum. Dr. Ibrahim argued that “the restoration process is the task of the forthcoming government and parliament. Today, our ministry is only performing a limited role. Hence, we can’t take any kind of action or engage in battles that might provoke other countries.”

With regards to the political rise of the Islamists, and the fears of some that they might adopt a different stance towards the protection of antiquities, Dr. Ibrahim described all that has been circulated about this issue as “scaremongering hyped up by the media. In answer to this, it is suffice to say that I recently received a request for information from a Salafi MP, inquiring into the occurrence of acts of plunder in ancient tombs. Of course this rumor is completely false; none of our ancient tombs have been violated.”

The minister added that “[Nevertheless] the fact that Islamist MPs requested information about the plundering of ancient tombs indicates their care and concern for our antiquities. Therefore, it is very unlikely they would take an opposing position towards antiquities, or desecrate them in any way.” The minister went on to say that “My dealings with Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi MPs in parliament have revealed to me how keen they are on protecting and preserving our antiquities, even more so than others. Furthermore, I have found them to be very keen on preserving the Ministry of Antiquities in the forthcoming government, without any thoughts of dissolving it.”

In connection to rumors of the military police carrying out acts of torture against vandals arrested for breaking in to the Egyptian Museum premises near Tahrir Square, the minister stated that “such rumors are utterly false.” He maintained that “ever since I assumed responsibility (more than three months ago), no vandals have entered the Egyptian Museum in any fashion. During the first anniversary of the revolution, I was present in the museum and there was not a single attempt made by anyone to enter the building. The museum enjoys the security and protection of the revolutionary youths.”

The Minister of Antiquities regarded the current situation, with protests ongoing on the Egyptian street, as “a matter that is having a negative impact on the influx of tourists and sightseeing trips. This will have implications on the ministry’s revenue, which relies on the income generated by sightseeing trips.”

Dr. Ibrahim revealed that his ministry has been suffering a slump with over a 65 percent reduction in its revenue, ever since the start of the revolution. He added that “Despite the debts originally burdening the shoulders of the ministry, I am now trying to offset part of them to stimulate the work process at archeological sites to some extent.” Dr. Ibrahim, moreover, pledged to never cover up for any kind of corruption. He said that “I am not going to allow any measure of corruption, even if it is slight. Many legal cases have already been referred to the administrative prosecution service or the public funds prosecution. Upon assuming responsibility, I became highly suspicious of corruption in some projects, so I referred them to the cabinet which subsequently referred them to the Attorney General. This is concrete proof that we won’t cover up for any suspicion of corruption no matter how small it might be.”