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CORNERSTONES OF EGYPT'S HISTORY

A DISTINCT CULTURAL HERITAGE: A FOCUS ON THE INVISIBLE WORLD

The achievement of the Ancient Egyptians and of the Greek and Romans in classical antiquity has been already laid out in Chapter 20 and highlights the longstanding and distinctive cultural heritage on which Egypt builds. For Oxford-based Egyptologist, Jeremy Nadler (3,4) Ancient Egypt not only belongs to the past, it speaks directly to our contemporary situation, and even points the way toward the world's future. For despite their extraordinary technological skill, which enabled the Egyptians to construct monumental buildings that would last for millennia, the main focus of Egyptian civilization was on the invisible world.

Indeed, at Heliopolis, where our Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development is based (see Chapter 22) it was taught that the creator-god emerged first as solid land, surging up from the abysmal waters. And then he set about creating the other gods.

The secret essence of divinity, then, is the mysterious identification with and magical ability to quicken the creative power whereby existence is brought forth from nonexistence. If today we are beginning to rediscover the gods as energies of the soul, then the Ancient Egyptians can help to direct us toward the ultimate divinity of these energies. The direction in which the ancient wisdom encourages us to travel is – like that of contemporary depth psychology – toward deeper self-knowledge. But it is toward a depth that is in the end, for Naydler, trans-psychic: the universal creative power that essentially precedes every god. It is upon the primordial ground of identity with the transcendent power, most especially lodged in Ma'at as we saw in Chapter 20, that the recognition of the divinity of the gods depends.

Of course there is a long way to go, millennia in fact, from the world of Ancient Egypt and the Golden Age of Islam, but both, and more, are part of its integral becoming.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF ISLAM UNDER THE FATIMID CALIPHATE

In the Golden Age of Islam also mentioned above, during the later Fatimid Caliphate (973-1171 ad), Egypt was conquered and Cairo was built. It became the political, cultural, and religious centre of today's Middle East. Under the Fatimids, Egypt flourished economically as well as intellectually. Al Azhar University was founded as one of the first universities in the world. The end of the Islamic Caliphate, however, started a downward spiral in Egypt's development and finally ended with the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517, after which it became a province of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman invasion pushed the Egyptian system into decline. The defensive militarization damaged its civil society and economic institutions. The weakening of the economic system combined with the effects of Black Death on the population left Egypt vulnerable to foreign invasion.

A SHOCK FOR THE ARAB WORLD – NAPOLEON THE CONQUEROR

The French conqueror Napoleon used this opportunity and occupied Egypt from 1798 to 1801, which was a huge shock for the Arab world that thought of themselves as superior to the Western world. Nevertheless, Napoleon did not manage to hold onto power for long and once he left local forces wrestled power from the French again. This was the time when modern Egypt effectively started and the future king Muhamed Ali rose out of the chaos and established a dynasty from 1805 with a focus on building up a strong military. Thereafter he started modernizing and industrializing the country. That vigorous experiment lasted for the first two thirds of the 19th century and only belatedly ran out of steam in the 1870s, in the second half of the reign of Khedive Ismail.

Three times then, for Amin, in the naval campaign of 1840, by taking control of the khedive's finances during the 1870s, and thereafter finally by military occupation in 1882, England fiercely pursued its objective: to make sure that modern Egypt would fail to develop. This intention to keep such developing, but strategically important, countries like Egypt from succeeding, by the colonial powers, is spelt out very forcibly by British political scientists and journalist Mark Curtis (5) in his Secret Affairs: British Collusion with Radical Islam. To that extent, for one of us (Ibrahim Abouleish), the current misery of Egypt was planned, so to speak, over a century ago by the world powers, especially Britain and America, well before the birth of the Israeli State in 1948.

Ultimately beaten, emergent Egypt was forced to undergo nearly 40 years (18801920) as a servile periphery. However, the Egyptian nation never accepted that position. This stubborn refusal in turn gave rise to a second wave of rising movements, which unfolded during the next half century (1919-67). The first moment of those 50 years of rising emancipatory struggles in Egypt had emphasized – with the formation of the liberal Wafd Party in 1919 – political modernization through adoption (in 1923) of a “Western" form of constitutional democracy (limited monarchy). The form of democracy envisaged allowed progressive secularization – if not secularism in the radical sense of the term. The British meanwhile empowered, supported actively by the Egyptian monarchy, the great landlords and the rich peasants into undoing the democratic process made under Wafdist leadership.

 
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