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Cairo October 20, 1999 - Blessed with Water by Coptic Christian Priest

By Bob Van Leer

  9 KingTut(CAIRO, EGYPT, Oct. 20, 1999) - Today was another day mostly for sightseeing. We spent the morning at the Egyptian Museum across the street from our hotel, the Nile Hilton.

  The museum, built in 1902, houses an incredible number of artifacts, some on display but others in storage due to space limitations.

  The star of the collection is the artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamen, the only royal tomb discovered unplundered. And the star of this is Tut's gold death mask. Tut was just under 20 when he died after reigning for only six years and was buried in 1352 B.C. The more than five thousand items recovered from his tomb invites speculation as to what might have been included in the tombs of more powerful kings whose tombs were looted.

   Tut's coffin is of solid gold and weights 110 kilograms (a kilogram is 2.2 pounds). This coffin was encased in two gold covered coffins. These, in turn, were enclosed in four gold covered boxes each of progressively larger sizes until the last was the size of a truck shipping container.

  One room beside the tomb was called the treasury and contained gold and other valuable objects. An entrance room was crammed with thousands of objects such as thrones and beds. Pictures of the way the objects were found remind you of a cluttered garage. 

  Egyptians have always had a belief in life after death. This includes the dead person living on in his human shape. This requires preservation of the body and a supply of food.

  On display is a copy of the Rosetta Stone, a description of an event in three languages including Greek and hieroglyphics which allow translation of early Egyptian writings. The original of the stone is in the British Museum.

  One stele, or stone tablet, carved about 1500 B.C. illustrates how long ill feeling has existed between the Egyptians and Israel. Part of the inscription reads, "Israel is to be crushed - it has no more seed". The peace between Egypt and Israel signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachin Begin, brokered by Pres. Jimmy Carter, is 20 years old now and still holding.

  But it would not be correct to say that the two nations are living in harmony. We have found a reticence on the part of the Egyptians to accept the Israelis as equal partners. There is commerce between the two countries but it seems to be at arm's length.


7 EgyptianMuseumAfter lunch we went on a tour of churches. The first stop was the Chapel of St. George, where Fr. Farak, a Coptic Christian priest, blessed us with water. Our guide, Ramza, said the father comes three times a week to save sick people.

  Next was St. Sargius Church, known as the oldest church in Egypt. The Holy Family is said to have lived in what is now the lower level of the present building during the family's stay in Egypt. Coptic Christianity was founded above it at the end of the Fourth Century.

  The Coptic church seems to be similar to the Catholic church except for doctrinaire differences, and has its own pope. Our guide said about 10% of Egyptians are Coptic Christians.

  All of these are in old Cairo. The next was Ben Ezrah, the oldest synagogue in Egypt. It has no congregation as there are almost no Jews left in Egypt. But the church is immaculate, and our guide said it has been restored by American money.

  The last stop was the first mosque in Africa built in 640 A.D.
  After our church tours we met with businessman Mohsen Hassan, a New Jersey, U.S.A., neighbor of our tour host, Ahmed A. Meguid. Egyptian born Hassan is now a U.S. citizen. He says there are problems in doing business in Egypt, but he saw enough opportunity to open a new business in Cairo in addition to his office in New York. Hassan designs and sells computers and systems and visits his Cairo office monthly.

  He listed as business plusses: the Egyptian pound is a very stable currency and fully convertible and the banking secrecy act protect bank accounts.

  Hassan is bullish on the next generation of Egyptians. He says they "want to do something". He said college graduates are now going into business rather than going into government services as in the past.

  Wages in Egypt are low compared to our standards. An average laborer might make $200 per month but pays $50 per month for rent and food for a family for a day would be on the order of $3.

  School is free up to college level. Women may progress through any level now according to their ability.

  I asked our host, Meguid, a question that had been puzzling me. Serbian Christians attacked Bosnia and Kosovo Muslims and were rescued by the Christian west, yet there appeared to be no visible Muslim help. Meguid said Muslim nations helped with money, but didn't get a green light from the U.S. for troop help. He said no nation can now make such moves without a green light from the U.S. but Muslim nations would have definitely helped if given an okay.

  Tomorrow we will fly to Luxor in upper Egypt to visit an irrigation project, the Aswan Dam, and the Valley of Kings.

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