6 - 12 January 2000
Issue No. 463
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
When Umm Kulthoum's face appeared on the Pyramids, and her voice filled the air, the crowd went wild.
Only half of the story
Certainly a once-in-a-lifetime event, the millennium party at the Pyramids was the place to be on New Year's Eve last Friday night.
Getting there may have been a struggle, but the scene at the Pyramids cured all frustration in a moment. The site of the throng of revelers gathered in this most ancient of places took one's breath away.
There was talk of how Egypt had not thrown a party like this since the staging of Opera Aida for the opening of the Suez Canal. All eyes around the world were focused on Egypt's greatest monuments, where over 100,000 people gathered to bring in the year 2000. A lot was riding on the event: it was a spectacle meant to do the nation proud.
The scene was stupendous, with the over-5,000-year-old Pyramids in the background, but still dominating the entire scene. Two hours of fireworks culminated in several blasts that spelled out the year 2000 in the sky. Fog may have hid Khufu, but Khafre and Menkaure stood proudly, tolerating the random assortment of colorful images being projected onto their sturdy sides.
The 1,000 performers on stage were putting on a show called The Twelve Dreams of the Sun, ostensibly based on a Pharaonic legend, but basically an excuse for French musician Jean-Michel Jarre, the director, to intersperse some vaguely Eastern music with his electronic-style opera. The music somehow seemed disproportionately minuscule compared to its surroundings. Only during the segment featuring the voice and face of Umm Kulthoum, and during another brief Arabic interlude, did a cohesiveness begin to emerge. Might it not have been wiser to feature more music from this side of the world?
For those attending the party, as opposed to those watching it on TV (where you mainly got to see close-ups of the stage show without a real sense of the entire scene), all this didn't really matter. This was not a concert after all, as Jarre had told the press, it was a spectacle.
The Pyramids were enough. They were the main attraction. Where else in the world did the arbitrary calendar take on such insignificance, and such meaning at the same time?
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From top: Mohamed Mounir belts out the tunes by the Nile; the crowds gather on Qasr Al-Nil Bridge to watch; Jean-Michel Jarre at the Pyramids; a Pharaonic wedding in Luxor
Party or bust
Egypt's millennium celebration was spectacular in every respect, including the colossal traffic jam created by a youthful crowd estimated at over double the anticipated audience of 50,000.
Two things were crystal clear for those who were at the Pyramids party on Friday night. First, its sheer grandeur was worth the trouble, and second, that Egyptians love to celebrate, peacefully, and do not take "no" for an answer when it comes to partying!
Armed with their collective optimism and cheerful nature, the crowds swept the elaborate arrangements aside. They simply had to make it to the huge party site. No tickets or car parking stickers were available at any price at the ill-prepared entry points.
As the celebration was about to start, thousands abandoned their cars along the Fayoum and Alexandria crossroads and waded several kilometres through the desert sands towards the brilliant site. Many, including hundreds of tourists, left their transport vehicles paralysed along the narrow entrance routes and walked the rest of the way as fire-works filled the sky.
The largely unexpected crowd was mostly educated professionals in their twenties and thirties, but many were older well-to-do Egyptians and foreign tourists. They were attracted by the extensive media campaign that preceded the show, extolling its extraordinary beauty. They also knew the show was a good bargain at LE50 plus transportation.
Thousands of people kept streaming to the site well after midnight. As the main show of music, laser lights and fire-works was over at 1.00am, it seemed there were as many people leaving the site as those that were just arriving. Some were elderly, including a limping lady being helped by family members, who was seen at 1.30am walking bravely towards the finished celebration.
Leaving the party was not as difficult as entering it however. As heavy fog enveloped the area, private cars and buses streamed out peacefully and swiftly. Scores of tourists assembled under parking lights waiting for their travel agents to pick them up. Some had to borrow mobile telephones to call their drivers.
Talking to the overwhelmed organisers after the celebration, it seems the turn-out simply far exceeded their wildest expectations. Only a few days before the celebration thousands of tickets remained unsold at various outlets around the city. Planners wrongly figured that the confluence of Ramadan fasting and piety, as well as concern over the desert's biting cold, would keep most glued to their television sets in their cozy homes.
Ahmed Abu Shadi
A Pharaonic wedding in Luxor
Millennium runesMove closer to each other and be tied together
by the warmest of all bonds,
like when the goddess "Nut" covered the body of "Geb"
and bestowed on the Earth a Sky,
and a boat for the sun "Atun" to sail.
To the man I say:
Tell your companion of your love,
so that what was hidden deep inside the self
may appear to the eye.
To the woman I say:
Declare your love and make your vows to him,
and let your joy shine on your face and flow around you,
like the perfect glow of "Re"
To both of you I say:
Be for each other the home where one brings together his soul.
With these words, 12 couples from different countries, including Egypt, were married by the grand-priest of Karnak during the millennium celebrations organised in Luxor by the Ministry of Tourism.
The idea behind the Luxor celebrations was to invite 12 couples to celebrate their wedding according to Pharaonic rituals, gathered from history books and ancient Pharaonic scripts.
"You are all welcome in Egypt; the cradle of civilization and the land of peace and tolerance with a history of 7,000 years," said Mamdouh El-Beltagui, the minister of tourism, addressing the couples. "Through this celebration, [you] will have the opportunity to experience these Pharaonic rituals in the Karnak Temples."
The wedding celebrations began when the grooms, all dressed in the Pharaonic attire, went from Karnak to Luxor Temple to bring the brides from the harem there. They entered Luxor Temple followed by boys and girls carrying incense. The couples then got into hantours (carriages) and returned to Karnak for the main wedding celebration.
This hantour trip was a main attraction in itself. The hantours, followed by folkloric troupes, passed through crowds of people lining the road and throwing flowers and jasmine. When the marital procession reached Karnak, the 12 couples entered the temple followed by the priestess.
The grand-priest recited the script of marriage, after which they were married according to the ancient rituals. The couples all bowed to the priest and entered the hypostyle hall to dance the wedding dance with the priestess. The celebration was transmitted on Egyptian television, as well as Britain's BBC, to countries all over the world.
Back in Cairo, the Giza Plateau was not the only performance in town. The "Nile Fiesta" boasted a procession of Nile vessels -- cruises, feluccas and rowing boats -- all ornamented with lights and lasers. Hotels overlooking the Nile were also decorated and lit up; a sparkling array of lights glistening along the water.
Crowds of people gathered at the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge to see the boats' procession and to listen to the Egyptian anthem, performed by the Nubian singers. A theatre overlooking the Nile was built by the Ministry of Information where Mohamed Mounir sang songs of brotherhood, love and peace.