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Four ancient Egyptian sphinxes pictured at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor.     Source: Anton / Adobe stock

Four Ancient Egyptian Sphinxes Sacrificed In Political Chess Match

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Four ancient Egyptian sphinxes are controversially being reallocated to a busy roundabout in Cairo and Egyptologists are warning they will be exposed to air pollution, which will cause irreversible damage.

The four ancient ram-headed sphinxes, according to Egyptologists speaking with reporters at The Guardian , are being relocated to “obscure Egypt’s recent protest history,” with two of them formerly having guarded the entrance of the famous Temple of Karnak in Luxor. The transfer of these four sandstone statues to Tahrir Square in Cairo means they are now exposed to “intense heat and air pollution” and academics and Egyptologists are saying the move “amounts to an attempt to erase Egypt’s recent history.”

When Governmental Justification Beggars Belief

The four ancient Egyptian sphinxes are presently being stored in wooden crates until a date is determined for an elaborate unveiling ceremony at their new home at the busy traffic roundabout, where they will join a garish pink granite obelisk. Speaking with  Al Ahram newspaper, Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s Antiquities Minister, recently justified the move pointing to world capitals like Rome, Paris, London and Washington who display Egyptian obelisks in their major tourist squares, and said “so why do we not do the same?”

Khaled El-Enany added that one of the 90-tonne obelisks dates to the period of Ramesses II , known as Ramesses the Great, who reigned in the New Kingdom between 1279 and 1213 BC, was moved to Tahrir Square in 2019 and they plan to mount it as high as possible to give it historical value and “to attract tourists.”

Rogue Archaeologists and Rebel Leaders Strike Back

According to a report on Masrawy, Egyptologists are so concerned with the transfer of these four statues that a group, including an Egyptian member of parliament, filed legal action against the prime minister, Mostafa Madbouly. Speaking about this lawsuit Egyptologist Monica Hanna said the group have serious concerns not only over the statues’ safety in the pollution of Tahrir Square but also regarding the threat caused to the historical integrity of Karnak Temple.

The Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt, seen through the walkway of ancient Egyptian sphinxes with rams’ heads. (Pakhnyushchyy / Adobe stock)

The Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt, seen through the walkway of ancient Egyptian sphinxes with rams’ heads. ( Pakhnyushchyy / Adobe stock)

The Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage is a UNESCO site founded as an autonomous and independent Bahraini public institution, and according to Cairo24, they too opposed the relocation plan saying the statues removal was “counter to Egypt’s commitment to preserve heritage.” Why then, would one of the world’s busiest and most experienced heritage organizations deliberately expose antiquities to pollution, if not just for the tourist dollar?

Signs of Underlying Political Upheaval Still Brewing In Egypt

The controversy associated with the transfer of these four ancient arts is greatly being highlighted by Rabab El Mahdi, associate professor of political science at the American University in Cairo , who said this is all about the authorities attempting to further “erase contemporary history.” According to the professor Tahrir Square, named after the Egyptian word for “liberation,” was chosen not only because it’s one of Cairo’s busiest traffic intersections, but because it is a major symbolic protest site.

During the 2011 uprisings that toppled the autocratic president, Hosni Mubarak, the square was a meeting place for millions of Egyptians fighting security forces for control of the city center. A World Times article tells the story of how in 2013 the Egyptian government attempted to install a monument at the square to commemorate the hundreds of people who died in the 2011 uprising, but activists threatened to destroy it.

Protests at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. This is the place that is proposed for the relocation of the ancient Egyptian sphinxes. (Jonathan Rashad / CC BY 2.0)

Protests at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. This is the place that is proposed for the relocation of the ancient Egyptian sphinxes. (Jonathan Rashad / CC BY 2.0 )

Look Up, There’s Nothing To See Down There

The planned installation of the four statues is thought to be aimed at disrupting the people’s recent political memories of uprisings, and critics see the installation of the four sphinxes as the government pasting over modern-history with ancient artifacts, which have no political connotations or associations with the political turbulence.

Scientist Rabab El Mahdi told The Guardian that “siting the sphinxes there was in bad taste” and he went so far as to say it shows “no respect for the living who witnessed the revolution and see it as part of contemporary history, and neither does it show respect for the dead, including the antiquities.”

According to a 2011 Live Science article, Egyptian antiquity authorities actively chase world governments for the return of artifacts and statues, and they criticized Washington heritage authorities for the exposing Cleopatra’s Needle to environmental damage. But now, these same people are moving four ancient statues in what appears to be a game of political chess to a polluted location that will assure they all suffer a slow carbon-death, where they will now crumble before tourists’ eyes. However, the same cannot be said for the rebellion the government aims to symbolically crush, for only last year the The Guardian reported of fresh protests at the Liberation Square, which led to the controversial site being surrounded by Egyptian security forces to prevent new uprisings.

Top image: Four ancient Egyptian sphinxes pictured at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor.     Source: Anton / Adobe stock

By Ashley Cowie

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