Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 June 2004
Issue No. 693
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Dig days:

Zahi Hawass

Dubai's Pharaonic flair

By Zahi Hawass

People often ask me whether the Pharaohs reached America and Mexico, and I respond that we have no evidence of this. So when I visited Dubai and found buildings and homes that were clearly influenced by the Pharaonic civilisation I was more than surprised to find signs of the Pharaohs in that city.

In 1988 Sheikh Manea invited me to Dubai and told me that he had decided to build a Sheraton Hotel in the shape of a pyramid. During the three days I stayed there we discussed the project, which never materialised. I must say that I could not see why he wished to build a hotel in a pyramid shape there.

However, during that visit I found myself in the presence of a unique individual, a man who wanted to promote Arab culture and hold true to his roots, but who nevertheless used Western technology to develop his country. Sheikh Manea, who was then head of the Diwan, devoted all his efforts to the development of Dubai, which had begun under the supervision of Sheikh Rashad. As a result of his efforts Dubai ranks today as one of the most advanced cities in the Arab world, largely thanks to its gold and silver trade -- its income from oil is minimal but Dubai has become an international centre that attracts businessmen, traders and tourists.

On my second visit to Dubai at the invitation of the World President Organisation (WPO) to participate in a conference to determine how to retrieve Iraqi artefacts looted during the American invasion, I again had the pleasure of meeting Sheikh Manea. This time I noticed what had earlier been unimaginable -- that there was strong evidence of a Pharaonic culture in Dubai. Manea had constructed a restaurant in the style of an Egyptian temple, both in outer adornment and interior design, and including beautifully-made statues of the Ancient Egyptian kings and queens. One of the most elegant was that of Queen Cleopatra, while another was of Antony, both life size.

Imagine my surprise on finding a Pharaonic-style health centre, with each room identified with its name written in Egyptian hieroglyphs and decorated with statues and Ancient Egyptian artefacts. The health centre, I learnt, uses Ancient Egyptian healing methods.

Dubai has indeed undergone "Egyptomania". A large shopping mall is approached by an avenue of sphinxes with two massive statues of Ramses II at its entrance. The court, built of glass, is decorated with scenes from the Amarna period, ships of the Pharaohs, and with different scenes of daily life depicted in the various halls. I learnt that our own Egyptian artist Mahmoud Mabrouk had carried out this impressive work, making accurate and impressive replicas of the statues of the Ancient Pharaohs.

Sheikh Manea is now going ahead with his original plan, the one he mulled over in 1988 -- to build a hotel in the shape of a pyramid in front of the mall.

I told Sheikh Manea about Mabrouk's talent. In 1988, when Barbara Bush came to visit Egypt, Mrs Suzanne Mubarak invited her to visit the Egyptian Museum, and when she saw King Tut's massive, solid gold sarcophagus, she commented that no one could make something like it today. I told Mrs Mubarak that there was, indeed, a young artist named Mahmoud Mabrouk who was capable of the same excellent workmanship as the Ancient Egyptians. Mrs Mubarak duly visited the Pharaonic Village, where she was able to see for herself Mabrouk's reproductions of Tutankhamun's tomb. She asked him to do the sculptures for the Suzanne Mubarak Children's Museum.

Sheikh Manea, a modest and cultured man, said he would like to invite me to his apartment. When I arrived I was impressed by the salon, decorated in an elegant Arab style, and his bedroom furnished in a Pharaonic theme. I expressed my amazement that Dubai was so intrigued with ancient heritage, particularly the Egyptian civilisation, while Cairo lacked even a restaurant with a Pharaonic theme.

When I left Dubai I thought about the people I had met, and of how this modern city had been inspired by the Pharaonic civilisation. I thought that Sheikh Manea could be an incarnation of one of the viziers or architects who worked 3,000 years ago, such as Amenhotep Ibn Habu, the architect of Amenhotep III during the golden era of the New Kingdom.

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