EGYPT: ONE CIVILIZATION OF HARMONIOUS CULTURES
Egypt is the cradle of human civilization: a fact hardly contested among authoritative historians. But Egypt also enjoys a local geo political position, connecting Africa, Asia, and Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. On its land, migrations of people, traditions, philosophies and religious beliefs succeeded each other for thousands of years. Evidence of this succession is still visible in the accumulation of monuments and sites attesting to a uniquely comprehensive cultural heritage. Indeed, one of the phenomena which shaped Egypt’s distinctive identity, and explains its pervasive influence on the then known world, was a dynamism that accommodated and re-formulated these successive cultures into one homogenous and harmonious Egyptian canvas. Egypt is one civilization woven of many strands, threaded by successive and intertwining eras; the Pharaonic, the Graeco-Roman, the Coptic Christian, and the Islamic eras.
Because the Egyptian people are the essential product of this “harmony in diversity”, “otherness” has become an integral component of their awareness, a basic constituent of their national and cultural identity. This characterictic has yielded one important result: Egypt was, and still is, the land of refuge in the widest sense of tile word, a place of tolerence and dialogue for peoples, races, cultures and religions.
On this land of Egypt, the first voice proclaiming the Oneness of God rang our in the 14th century B.C. through Akhenaron’s monotheistic creed. Moses and Jesus lived in this same land. Later, Islam entered without conflict.
Before long, the world will be celebrating the birth of Christ, together with the birth of the twenty first century, the third millennium A.D. While sharing with the rest of mankind the celebration of this momentous milestone in the world’s history, Egypt will have its splendid occasion to celebrate the dawning of the seventh millennium of the country’s recorded history.
Some people in the outside world may not be aware of the special significance all Egyptians attribute to the fact that the Holy Family, when Christ was an infant, found haven in Egypt for nearly four years after their flight out of fear from the persecution of King Herod. Egypt’s re-paving of the route the Holy Family followed is part of a comprehensive policy to revive, and give prominence to, all the religious landmarks which constitute the spiritual heritage of the one Egyptian civilization. With an eye Of history, and Egypt’s role in it, a nation-wide project is under way, under the leadership of President Mubarak, to restore and preserve this heritage. The aim is to generate a renaissance, in a temporal context, connecting the past with the present, providing, thereby, an impetus for the future.
To highlight but a few noteworthy examples of the many initiatives in this regard, I would refer only to the restoration work carried our on the Sphinx and now completed after ten years; the salvaging of Egyptian monuments of Graeco-Roman period off the shores of Alexandria; repairing the Hanging Church in Old Cairo, one of the oldest landmarks in Christendom in the orient, and the work of conservation carried out on the one-thousand year-old Al Azbar Mosque as well as on all the other awe-inspiring edifices of Islamic Cairo in the heart of the capital.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda Ill, guardian and defender of the national traditions of the Coptic Church, personally approved the text of the present book, mapping the route the Holy Family followed on its flight into Egypt, from Al-Farma in the north east of Sinai to Al-Muharraq Monastery in the southern Nile Valley. When the ground work of this vast project is completed by the beginning of the third millennium, many of the believers in the One God, we all worship, and lovers of our civilization, will come to us. But the supreme objective of the present book, and of the project when completed, is enshrined in the two-fold message addressed to all Egyptians and the world at large simultaneously: that our country was, and will remain, a safe haven of co-existence and peace; and that the unity of the Egyptian people, both Moslems and Copts, is the backbone of the entity of the Nation-State of Egypt.
Dr. Mamdouh El-Beltagui
Minister of Tourism