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Mummies on the Move

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

The Egyptian government has just staged a vast public spectacle centred on the transport of 22 royal mummies from the old Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to a new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation three miles away. The mummies, including King Rameses II and Queen Hatshepsut, were convoyed in special caskets emblazoned with pharaonic motifs, and the event involved costumed attendants, chariots, dancers, drums, dramatic music and lights, and much more.

Waiting to receive the mummies at their new home was the country’s present-day dictator, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In 2013, his regime smashed the Egyptian Revolution, overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi and reinstating the fallen military dictatorship. There are currently 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt.

The world’s mainstream media appears to have been mesmerised by this publicity stunt. They have regurgitated uncritically comments like that of Salima Ikram, Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo, who said, ‘By doing it like this, with great pomp and circumstance, the mummies are getting their due. These are the kings of Egypt, these are the pharaohs. And so, it is a way of showing respect.’

Perhaps it is their due: the pharaohs were totalitarian dictators in their time. However, make no mistake, this parade is not a way of ‘showing respect’ to past leaders. Rather, the iconic pharaohs have been re-mobilised to legitimise the modern dictatorship. Glorifying an invented past is exactly what Hitler and Stalin did. As archaeologists, we denounce this modern-day abuse of the past.

Guy Debord published The Society of the Spectacle more than 50 years ago. El-Sisi’s mummy parade is a prime example of what he meant. Any archaeologist giving approval to this transparent display of power-worship is prostituting their academic integrity.

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