Continued from E1
one recognised the power of the state. As foreigners staying in a local Egyptian home we had to register at the police station, but that in no way diminished the grandeur of the treasures inside the Egyptian Museum. Our host arranged a private viewing of King Tutunkhamun's richly decorated coffin which later toured the world and became an iconic symbol of Egyptian antiquity. The daughters and I took a street car out to Giza and along the way, with purple evening falling, the streets alive with people, Cairo entered forever into my realm of what is of value in this world. The next day, our host's wife shouted like a trucker in Arabic and waved her arm out the window of her car - explaining that was the only way to survive the craziness of Cairo traffic. The strength and power of Egyptian women impressed me no end.
Watching international events over the years I knew Egypt would sometime experience turmoil, though I thought it would come with Mubarak's death. So I returned two years ago, this time viewing the superb Coptic Museum, Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Churches of St Sergius and St George as well as the exquisite Mohammed Ali Mosque in the Citadel before flying to Luxor, 415 miles south of Cairo, on what was once Thebes. Nowhere is more breathtaking than the magnificent complex of temples at Karnak, dating 2,000 years before Christ. Gigantic columns, 33 feet around, 80 feet high, 134 of them, dwarfed beneath, I stood in awe of those who built such grandeur thousands of years before. Along the Nile, two kilometres of sphinxes once connected Karnak with the Temple of Luxor, where huge granite statues of Ramses II grace the entrance. The Valleys of the Kings and Queens, Madinet Habou and the Colossi at Memnon are all sites we visited within our first 24 hours on the Nile. At Edfu, halfway between Luxor and Aswan we visited the Temple of Horus, the best preserved Ptolemaic temple in Egypt built beginning 237 BC. The sacred treasures of Egypt are so important that when the Aswan High Dam was built with the assistance of the Soviet Union between 1972 and 1980 and 800,000 Nubians were displaced by the creation of Lake Nasser, the Temple of Philae was cut into 41,000 pieces, each numbered and reassembled on nearby Angilika Island with the assistance of UNESCO. Even the four 108ft-high carvings of Ramses II were transported to Abu Simbel 40 miles from the Sudanese border to save them for posterity.
What is at stake now? When thieves entered the Egyptian museum during the recent demonstrations and cut off the heads of two mummies, demonstrators chased them down and recovered the stolen artefacts, then formed cordons around the Museum to protect it. What everyone fears is that some fundamentalist regime, such as the Taliban which blew up the ancient carvings of Buddha in Afghanistan might prevail, or that fighting between factions such as that in Cambodia which destroyed many of the ancient Khmer temples might occur. What is at stake is that all Egyptians should be free of repressive, totalitarian government of any kind and that the sacred antiquities of this great nation should survive for all the world to share in their splendour.