Monday,20 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)
Monday,20 November, 2017
Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Cleopatra’s daughter in Algeria

Algeria and Egypt have long been deeply connected, as Mohamed Salmawy discovered anew on a recent trip to Algiers

Al-Ahram Weekly

Although this was not my first visit to Algeria, perhaps the most important discovery I made this time around was that the close relationship between that country and ours stretches way back to antiquity. It turns out that the Queen of Egypt Cleopatra’s daughter was the queen of Mauritania, which included present-day Algeria.

The purpose of my current visit to Algeria was to take part in the 21st Algerian Book Fair in my capacity as head of the Egyptian delegation. Egypt was guest of honour in this year’s event. The Egyptian exhibit was very well prepared thanks to the efforts of both the Egyptian and Algerian organisers. Everyone who entered the Egyptian wing and participated in its various activities was extremely impressed. Algerian Prime Minister Abdel-Malek Sellal, who inaugurated the fair, made a point of escorting his guest, the prime minister of Niger, to the Egyptian wing, which he spoke of with an enthusiasm that expressed the pride he felt in the exhibit and those who designed, organised and staffed it. Sellal asked me about the number of books that were contained in the Egyptian exhibit and was surprised to learn that there were more than a thousand titles on display.

I had the great honour, while there, to be awarded the Cultural Perfection Shield “in recognition for your contribution to literature, thought and creativity and out of gratitude for your efforts in the service of Arab culture”. Algerian Minister of Culture Ezzeddine Mihoubi, who presented me the prize, and I had a lengthy conversation before the opening of the book fair in which he drew my attention to that important phase of Algerian history several decades BC when it was ruled by Queen Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII and the wife of King Juba II of Numidia. The minister showed me pictures on his mobile phone of the royal tomb, similar to an Egyptian pyramid, that Juba II had built for himself and his wife Cleopatra Selene. Former Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Al-Damati, an eminent Egyptologist who was also a prominent member of the Egyptian delegation at the Algerian Book Fair, was as eager as I to visit that monument. A short tour was arranged the following day to Tipaza Province where the tomb is located. We had the pleasure to be accompanied by the eminent researcher Nabil Abdel-Fattah, director of the General Egyptian Book Organisation Haitham Al-Hagg Ali and Editor-in-Chief of Akhbar Al-Adab Tarek Al-Taher.

Cleopatra Selene (“selene” means moon in Greek) was the fraternal twin of Prince Alexander Helios (“helios” means sun). Cleopatra VII gave birth to the twins after her first son Ptolemy Philadelphos. The three siblings were fathered by Mark Anthony. She had another son before this with Julius Caesar: Caesarion who would later be executed by Octavius (Augustus Caesar) after the defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium. Anthony and Cleopatra committed suicide after this defeat so as not to suffer the humiliation of being taken prisoner by Octavius and paraded in chains through the streets of Rome, as was the custom at the time. That fate was reserved for her children who were paraded through the streets of Rome in shackles of gold that were said to be so heavy that the children could barely walk.

After the assassination of the elder son, Ptolemy Philadelphos, who could have presented a threat to Octavius because of his claim to the Egyptian throne as the son of Anthony and Cleopatra, the Caesar had the twins raised in his palace. In that same palace the young Juba II the Mauritanian (or the Algerian in modern terms) was also being raised. It was said that the the young Selene and Juba became emotionally attached which pleased the Caesar who arranged for them to be married. When Juba returned to Mauritania to rule it, he brought Cleopatra Selene with him. While that kingdom was not subject to the Roman Empire, the presence of Juba II and Cleopatra Selene, who had been raised in Rome, was a guarantee of good relations between the two countries.

When we arrived in Tipaza, which is about 40 kilometres from Algiers, we saw a large mound shaped like a pyramid, although its tip was not pointed like the Great Pyramids of Giza. As we climbed up, we took in the awe-inspiring scene of the pyramid-shaped royal tomb. In its design it combined Roman architectural elements, such as the columns surrounding the base which, in turn, were crowned with Greek-inspired Ionic capitals. However, the predominant character of that great antique monument was unmistakably Pharaonic. The pyramid structure, which rests atop a large stone base, is 60 metres in diameter and 32 metres high. Inside is the royal burial chamber. Dr El-Damati, who had been inside, explained that it was constructed in the same manner as Pharaonic burial chambers in Egypt, but without engravings apart from the reliefs of a lion and lioness above the lintel of one of the doors. In ancient Egypt, these symbolised husband and wife and confirms that the tomb is indeed that of Juba II and Cleopatra Selene.

It is truly a thrilling experience to see history so concretely manifested before your eyes in a monument you had never heard of before. The Tipazi pyramid does not have the international repute of many other monuments from antiquity. As an Egyptian, it was particularly exciting to see ancient Egypt’s history extending thousands of miles westward into the Arab Maghreb and to discover marital bonds between Egyptian royalty and the royals of that distant land the name of which does not appear frequently in ancient documents.

This relationship was in my mind when, in my speech at the book fair, I spoke of Egyptian-Algerian relations. It seemed to me that the close relationship that manifested itself so clearly during the national liberation era in the 1950s and 1960s was a natural extension of the relationship that brought the two countries together in antiquity. Revolutionary Egypt fought the battle of liberation with the Algerian people. Their battle was Egypt’s battle. While the military combat took place on the ground in Algeria, the political combat took place in Egypt. Many might not remember this, but our great writer Youssef Idris went to Algeria to fight alongside Algerian freedom fighters. He was wounded and his blood seeped into Algerian soil. When the Algerian national struggle prevailed and won national independence the following year, that was a military victory for Algeria and a political victory for Egypt. All this lends a special character to the relationship between our two countries, one that you can easily sense today with every Algerian you meet.

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