Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Serbia and Dragan Bisenić

Some foreign ambassadors enter fully into the life of the country during their time spent in Egypt, with one such being Serbian ambassador Dragan Bisenić, writes Zahi Hawass

There are many ambassadors who come to Egypt and represent their countries for four years and then no one mentions their names after they leave. But there are also others who love Egypt and their country at the same time, and this second type of ambassador befriends Egyptians and becomes a part of Egypt.

One sees this type of ambassador visiting towns around the country, going to popular places, and eating with people with no guards surrounding them. These are the kind of people who enter into the hearts of all Egyptians.

Dragan Bisenić, the ambassador of Serbia in Egypt, is one of those who have entered our hearts. He goes everywhere, attends many art exhibitions and shows at the Cairo Opera House, and visits antiquities sites. He has become a close friend of many Egyptians. I once asked one of my friends about Dragan, who said that “this man is very sincere. He has an honest face. From the minute you see him, you feel that he could be your friend.”

When I met Dragan for the first time, he came up to introduce himself and asked me to sign one of my books. He told me that one of the gifts he wanted to give his friends was a book about Egypt. Dragan and I became close friends, and we began to socialise and see other friends including Egyptian ambassadors from the Foreign Ministry.

Dragan then came up with the idea of forming a group of ambassadors, a kind of club, which we should call the “Cleopatra Club”. I think that now the club has around 15 members, and although I cannot name all of them I can say that they are the kind of people that one cannot easily forget. They all want to help Egypt, and especially to help to bring tourists back and revive the tourism industry. Our group appointed Dragan the president of the Cleopatra Club.

When Dragan and I met with Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany, it was thought that we should capitalise on his energy to plan trips for the club. One of these trips was a short visit to the Temple of Taposiris Magna west of Alexandria where archaeologist Kathleen Martinez from the Dominican Republic has been searching for the tombs of the Roman general Mark Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. When Kathleen met with us, she instantly became the star of the club, and this explains why our group took the name it did. Dragan is currently organising another visit to Alexandria and the temple in order to help promote tourism to Egypt.

We (myself and El-Enany) would like to ask him to accompany the Cleopatra Group and other ambassadors on a trip to Middle Egypt, leaving Cairo early in the morning for the archaeological site of Tuna Al-Gabal. This site is very close to my heart because it was where I was first posted when I was just 20 years old after graduating from the Faculty of Arts at Alexandria University. It is a beautiful site hosting the unique Tomb of Petosiris, the only tomb in Egypt that combines both Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman art.

The site also contains the Roman Period Tomb of Isadora, a young woman who drowned while swimming with her lover in the Nile near a village now called Sheikh Abada. Isadora was buried at Tuna Al-Gabal, and her lover used to cross the Nile and walk 15km to light a lamp at her tomb. The famous Egyptian writer Taha Hussein built a rest house at Tuna Al-Gabal when he was minister of education, and he also used to go to the Tomb of Isadora to light a pottery lamp for her.

On our projected visit to the site the idea is to visit the underground tombs of baboons and ibises, which represented the god Thoth, the god of wisdom, to the ancient Egyptians. After this, we will drive to Mallawi and visit the local museum that has been reopened recently after its destruction following the 30 June Revolution.

No one can forget that time when the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from ruling the country and when the group’s supporters entered the Mallawi Museum, destroyed more than half the objects there, and burned two ancient churches. No one can forget either that the group destroyed a large part of the Islamic Museum in Cairo. Happily, the collections of the Mallawi Museum have been found and the museum reopened.  

From here, the idea is for our group to go to Tel Al-Amarna, the site where 3,000 years ago the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten announced the worship of one god, Aten, whose power emanated from the sun. Akhenaten built the city of Akhet-Aten, now called Tel Al-Amarna, at the site. We will then drive to Minya, where we will dine and stay overnight. The next morning, we will drive to Beni Hassan to visit the unique Middle Kingdom tombs there, and from there we will return to Cairo.

Dragan himself is in love with the pharaohs, and he often questions me about ancient Egypt. He once even wanted to buy a replica of the golden throne of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Jokingly, I asked him, “do you want a replica because you would also like to sit on a throne like a king?” He laughed and said he would rather sit on a throne “like a pharaoh”.

He appreciates art, and one evening he held a dinner in his residence, a beautiful building in Zamalek, to which he invited many ambassadors and their wives. I knew most of those present before the dinner, but it was the first time I had met the ambassadors of Russia and Germany. It is funny how foreign ambassadors, when in Egypt, often begin to adopt Egyptian customs, such as men sitting separately from women at social gatherings. This happened at Dragan’s dinner, which was a wonderful gathering also attended by El-Enany.

However, the most impressive event that Dragan has hosted was the exhibition organised at the Serbian ambassador’s residence of paintings by artist Hafez Abul-Ela Al-Raey. The artist is now 100 years old, and he has had many national and international exhibitions over his long career, with his paintings on show at the Modern Art Museum in Cairo. His works are also owned by collectors in Germany, Sweden, Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia. I was very impressed with the paintings, and I learned from Dragan that he intended to leave the exhibition in place until he had invited the artist himself for a celebration in his honour.

When I called Dragan to tell him that I had been invited to appear on a TV show in Serbia, he offered to arrange a meeting with me there. This did not happen because I was only visiting the country for a short period, but I really loved the Serbian capital of Belgrade and the Serbian people. I wanted to see the Museum of Yugoslav History, which displays artefacts from the life of former Yugoslav president Tito, but unfortunately I did not have the time because my interview lasted all day and I had to return to Egypt.

I wanted to visit the museum because Tito was a good friend of Egypt and Egyptians, especially during the time of former presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Anwar Al-Sadat. Today, Dragan is following in Tito’s footsteps. He is a friend to many Egyptians, he does not want to leave Egypt, and he is one foreign ambassador who will always be remembered by us all.

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