It was a parade unlike any other the city has seen.
A procession of 22 ancient Egyptian royal mummies streamed Saturday from downtown Cairo, where revolutionaries rose up to topple autocrat Hosni Mubarak a decade ago, to a new museum three miles away that represents Egypt’s future as much as its past.
At 8 p.m., the mummies – 18 kings and four queens – left the famed ochre-hued Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square, where they had rested for decades. They were each atop specially decorated gold-and-blue-hued vehicles, resembling a boat. Or perhaps the symbol of a winged sun, an ornament worn by Egypt’s ancient rulers and seen as providing protection. Each of the 22 vehicles was emblazoned with the name of the royals mummy it carried.
The multimillion-dollar affair – called the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade – had been promoted for months. Egyptian authorities are seeking to attract tourists, a key source of foreign currency, and alter the course of an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, Islamist attacks and political chaos in past years.
The highly choreographed ceremony was also a nationalist vehicle to highlight Egypt’s place in history. The nation’s authoritarian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who himself is often referred to as “a new pharaoh” for his ambitious projects and iron-fisted rule, presided over the ceremony.
In a Facebook post, Intisar al-Sissi, Egypt’s first lady, said Saturday’s event “expresses the greatness of the ancient civilization that provided humanity, and still does, with a unique and diverse legacy, contributing to its progress and prosperity.”
Most Egyptians saw the parade on television with the entire route and surrounding bridges and roads closed for security. With parts of the program prerecorded, viewers were treated to an orchestra and singer playing patriotic music and videos extolling many of the country’s famous temples, churches and mosques.
Sissi, along with senior officials and aides, watched the parade on a giant screen inside a hall of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, where the mummies would be displayed.
The ceremony sought to recreate the ancient existences of the royals. In the procession were horse-drawn chariots and hundreds of performers wearing the traditional attire worn by ancient Egyptians.
The vehicles circled around Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s revolution, which is now centered with an ancient obelisk and statues of lions. Flood lights bore into the night sky as yellow and blue lights lit up the area.
The mummies carried in boxes filled with nitrogen and their vehicles were fitted with special shock-absorbers to protect their millennia-old remains. Nothing was taken to chance: even their route was freshly paved.
The mummies in the procession were lined up in chronological order. The oldest rulers came first, starting with Seqenenre Taa, the last king of the 17th Dynasty, who reigned in the 16th century B.C. The last was the 12th century B.C.. pharaoh Ramses IX.
In between were two of the most well-known of ancient Egypt’s rulers: Ramses II, widely seen as the greatest pharaoh of the New Kingdom period, and Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled at a time when women pharaohs were very rare. The temples of both rulers, in Luxor and Abu Simbel, are among the most visited.
At 8:30 p.m., after following a large motorcycle escort through the empty Cairo streets, the 22 vehicles stopped in front the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in the capital’s Fustat enclave. Then, a 21-gun salute followed. Minutes later the parade entered the compound and Sissi walked out to greet the new arrivals.
They will be housed in the museum’s royal hall of mummies and will go on display by mid-month, said officials.