September 27

Ramses II and the republicans

Ramses IIThe scenes were extraordinary. The massive statue of Ramses II moved slowly through the streets of Cairo to his new home near the Pyramids. Thousands lined the streets in awe. According to the London Daily Telegraph of 26 August, 2006, one young man, Ahmed Sami, 23, shouted as the statue started its journey during the night: "We are going to miss you. Cairo will never be the same again."  Cairenes waved from their windows and balconies, some in tears. Others climbed onto buses, cars and buildings for a better view of the statue –you would hardly see the need given its size- as the Pharaoh  processed majestically to his new home near the ancient pyramids in Giza, a few miles outside Cairo.




“Ramses II was a powerful imperial ruler and prolific temple builder who ruled Egypt from about 1304 to 1237 BC. He is traditionally believed to be the pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of Moses,” the Telegraph reported. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities took the decision to move the statue following a decade of discussions after it had deteriorated due to pollution. The statue was brought to Cairo in 1954 and placed in such a way that it was the first sight to greet passengers emerging from Cairo’s train station. It was no co-incidence that two years earlier, Gamul Abdul Nasser had led a military coup d’état against King Farouk. As a young man Farouk had been popular, but his lavish lifestyle and the air of corruption that surrounded the court made him less popular. British influence in the country, which had increased during the war, greatly  offended the nationalists.



The British Ambassador in those years played the role of an imperial proconsul, having more influence than would be normal for a diplomat.  But when the wartime British Ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson, who was married to an Italian lady, objected that the King’s Italian servants  had not been  interned, it is said that the King replied: "I’ll get rid of my Italians, when you get rid of yours."


After the Arab defeat by Israel in 1948, the officer corps determined  to emove the King,  which they finally did in 1952. Whatever Farouk’s personal failings, Egypt had never known such a liberal and democratic system. This prevailed under what was a limited constitutional monarchy with at first de jure and then de facto British protection, and has not been duplicated since. Soon after the coup, the republicans fell out among themselves, Nasser removing the titular  leader, General Naquib. He subsequently engaged in a series of foreign adventures most of which were disastrous. The expulsion of the foreigners in 1956 had a deleterious impact on the economy and the cosmopolitan richness of Egytptian life, especially in Cairo and Alexandria.




According to The Weekend Australian of 26-27 August, 2006, relying on Agence France Presse, there is another dimension to what was already a fascinating story about the statue. Apparently it was only moved because Nasser wanted to demonstrate that his republic had authentic Egyptian roots. What was worse was the way in which they did it. The present head of Egyptian antiquities, Zahi Hawass,  says that the statue was actually chopped into eight pieces, moved and reassembled on the site. Worse, “… not a single archeologists was present. It was the decision of the military dictatorship.”




Perhaps we should ask what Australia’s republicans have in mind to demonstrate the authentic Australian roots of whatever republic and new flag they wish to foist on the nation. Is it a mere coincidence that  much of our history and our heritage is being suppressed? 




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