Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- People have gotten used to us disclosing many of our archaeological discoveries that date back to the Pharaonic age, from tombs to statues to beautiful paintings, not to mention underground crypts containing mummies or treasure in which the ancient Egyptians used to bury themselves in preparation for the journey into the afterlife.
The announcement of such discoveries can usually be found on the front pages of international magazines and newspapers and television channels that compete to cover the news of such discoveries, covering this in the Egyptian, Arab, and international media. However at the same time, we hear very little about Coptic or Islamic archaeological discoveries. Whenever I find myself as a guest on a radio or television program, the host invariably asks me, “Why do you love ancient Egyptian antiquities more than Islamic, Coptic, or Jewish antiquities?”
In some cases, the host goes so far as to criticize me and suggest that I highlight ancient Egyptian antiquities at the expense of Islamic, Coptic, or Jewish antiquities!
This is completely untrue and does not reflect reality. Anybody who doubts this should take a tour of Al Muizz Street in Cairo, as well as other historical locations throughout Egypt such as the city of Rosetta, the historical mosques in Damietta, the Abu al-Hujjaj Mosque in Luxor, the Saint Catherine and Abu Mena monasteries in Sinai, and the Hanging Church which is also located in Cairo, not to mention the Coptic and Islamic museums that are scheduled to open in the next few days. If they do this they will see with their own eyes that we do not pay special attention to certain antiquities at the expense of others, nor does the religious identity of antiquities play any factor in this.
Some people may not believe that we spend more money on restoring Islamic antiquities and monuments than we do on restoring ancient Egyptian antiquities and monuments, despite the fact that the latter are much older. The 2002 earthquake has resulted in us undertaking a huge campaign to rescue Islamic antiquities, especially in Cairo, after many monuments have spent the past 10 years being propped up by steel pillars. No official has been able to take the risk of removing these pillars and restoring the monuments to their original condition.
Another fact that people may not be aware of is that I studied ancient Egypt and I specialized in the age of the pyramids, and I have always felt that I live in the age of the Pyramid builders, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkuare. I can almost see Khufu personally supervising the design of his pyramid, discussing details with Pyramid Architect and cousin “Heminu” such as how he wanted his burial room to be located at the highest point within the internal pyramid structure so that he could rise every morning like the sun and see the land that he rules whilst it is being cultivated and harvested in safety.
When I speak of ancient Egypt, I am speaking about my first and greatest love, however this does not mean that I do not love anything else, as I appreciate the magnificence and beauty of Islamic art and the genius of the Muslim artists who were able to tame their tools to create a new type of art in accordance with the values of Islam. I think that if I specialized in Islamic antiquities I would speak about this from my heart in the same way that I speak about ancient Egyptian antiquities. In Egypt, there is a popular expression that goes “let the baker make the bread,” meaning that everybody should work according to their own specialization, and this should also apply to antiquities. Therefore whilst I love Islamic, Coptic and Jewish antiquities and monuments, my first love is ancient Egyptian antiquities and monuments.