The Nile. “The bringer of food… creator of all good. lord of majesty” is no longer worshiped as a god, but it still controls the lives of the people who live along its banks…
Ancient Egyptians rejoiced in the thought that their country was without history. Their view of the world was static: the best life was one in which everything was always the same. The Nile rose, flooded, and receded; the sun crossed the sky; the Pharaoh, no matter who he was, was always considered the son of the sun-god. This feeling of continuity was so strong that many Pharaohs gave the names of old conquests to new cities they conquered, and one named his children, dogs, and pet lion after the children, dogs, and pet lion of his predecessor.
As we see from modern Egypt, the country and its people are less fortunate and the environment less reassuring. It has been burdened with more history than almost any other nation and is still, of course, being subjected to it. The heritage of Nasser’s, Sadat’s, and Mubarak’s Egypt includes far more than the the thirteen century Arab experience which is central to official mythology and propaganda. Egypt also means Cleopatra, a well-known Grecian lady and the Hebrew emancipator Moses, who was saved by Pharaoh’s daughter from drowning in that same river. It means too, the men who conquered the Nile valley- Alexander the Great and Augustus, the great Arab generals and the Ottoman Turks, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Jesus belongs here almost as much as Mohammed does. He., after all, was taken to the country as an infant. A few centuries later, His followers even took over Egypt and consigned the ancient gods of the country to the Land of the Dead. In Alexandria, scholars argued and defined his His intimate and complex relationship with God, His Father and the Holy Ghost. And in the upper Egyptian desert, near the city of Thebes, Christian monasticism had its beginnings. When the Arabs conquered the country in A.D. 640, the Christian inhabitants of Egypt were offered toleration. But by the ninth century, when the last Christian rebellion against Arab rule took place, they had become a minority; time and the attraction of belonging to a powerful majority had been enough to cause a great decrease in their numbers. Their conversion to Islam had a profound effect on the country’s economy, for Christians were taxed more heavily than Moslems.
Despite this loss in revenue, Egypt changed inexorably into an Arab nation, although only a small percentage of the population was of Arab blood. Today Egypt’s Christians, or Copts, are a significant minority, but still a small and certainly powerless group; but they are the only inhabitants who can claim a direct link with Pharaonic times; their religious liturgy preserves the language of ancient Egypt, and their script is derived, although distantly, from the hieroglyphs of antiquity.