Egypt Is Upset by a Dutch Exhibit About Afrocentrism

A new exhibit in a Dutch museum proclaims that “Egypt is part of Africa”, a claim that most people who have ever seen a world map would find uncontroversial. may be

but Show at the National Archaeological Museum in Leiden Beyond geography. Exploring the traditions of black musicians such as Beyoncé, Tina Turner and Nas, it draws inspiration and pride from the idea that ancient Egypt is an African culture. The exhibit is structured as a useful rectification to centuries of cultural erasure of Africans.

But what might sound empowering in the United States and suggestive in the Netherlands is repugnant to the Egyptian government and many of its citizens, who like the museum’s Facebook and Google’s The page is inundated with complaints (sometimes racist) about what they are seeing. Western appropriation of their history.

Many Egyptians do not think of themselves as African at all, and feel more affinity with the predominantly Arab and Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East and North Africa, and many are dark-skinned. They despise Egyptians and sub-Saharan Africans. Others feel that their culture and history are being erased in the Western quest to correct historical racism.

The exhibition “attacks Egypt’s civilization and heritage” and “distorts the identity of the Egyptian people,” MP Ahmed Belal said in a May 2 speech. Shortly after the exhibition opened, and around that time, similar fireworks were set off over the Netflix docudrama. She played Cleopatra, the ancient Greek and Egyptian queen, as a black man.

Within weeks, the Egyptian government took action, presumably in recognition of the appeals to nationalist supporters. The authority overseeing ancient Egypt in general has informed a team of archaeologists at the Leiden Museum, including the show’s half-Egyptian curator, that it can no longer excavate in Egypt. Until then, Dutch Egyptologists had been working on the ancient tombs of Saqqara. since 1975.

“If you don’t respect our culture and heritage, we won’t work with you until you do,” said Egyptian archaeologist Abdul Rahim Rihan, who heads a group called the Campaign to Defend Egyptian Civilization. rice field.

The suggestion that ancient Egypt was the cultural ancestor of modern blacks is central to a form of Afrocentrism. Afrikacentrism is a cultural and political movement that arose against the racist and colonialist notion that African civilization was inferior to European civilization. In this story, a black man might be proud to have roots in an ancient kingdom that built some of the world’s greatest splendor.

But to the Egyptians, it all comes down to how Westerners plundered antiquities like the Rosetta Stone from Egypt and hogged the credit for finding them over the centuries, just as they plundered Egypt again. It leads to a hurt feeling that you are trying to usurp control of ancient Egypt from yourself.

of museum exhibits, Kemet: Egypt in Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul & Funk, examines how Afrocentrism has played out in music. Beyoncé and Rihanna dressed as the ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti. Nina Simone said she believes she is the reincarnation of Nefertiti. And Tina Turner once sang about her past life as Hatshepsut, the Pharaoh of ancient Egypt.

The cover art for Nath’s 1999 album “I Am…” has his features carved into King Tutankhamun’s famous golden mask. Miles Davis, Prince and Erykah Badu all draw inspiration from Pharaohs in their lyrics, jewelry and more.

The ancient Egyptian word for their country was Kemet. audio tour Dutch rapper Typhoon narrated in Dutch, English and Arabic, while Dutch rapper Nunerg performed a new song about his connection to ancient Egypt.

While on tour, Typhoon admits that the musician’s perspective “isn’t the only way to think about ancient Egypt”, but still continues to present the exhibition as a revision of history.

“Dutch and American TV programs and movies often present a specific image of Egypt to the public, but it was and still is inhabited by dark-skinned people,” he said. he says

The curator of this program is Daniel Solimanis half Egyptian. statement Following the “uproar” on social media, it posted a description of the exhibit online. The group said it sought to explain “why ancient Egypt was important to these artists and musicians, and from what cultural and intellectual movements its music emerged.”

A representative for the museum declined to comment beyond the statement.but they are defend the show Most of the critics point out that they have never been there.

What does it mean for Egyptians sensitive The issue came to light during the controversy over Netflix’s ”.queen cleopatraseries, an Egyptian lawyer called for a ban on streaming services in Egypt, but the government dismissed the show as a “fabrication of Egyptian history.”

Part of their anger may also stem from colorism. Some Egyptians tend to equate white skin with the elite, but this is probably due to the age-old beauty standards that valued white skin and centuries of white-skinned conquerors from Europe and Turkey. It’s the result of overarching dominance.

Part of the anger of the Egyptians is that the Arabs who invaded Egypt in the 7th century expelled the true African Egyptians, a certain Africanism that not all adherents of Afrocentrism have ever accepted. Concentrate on the idea of ​​centrism.

“This is an attack on Egyptian identity,” said Egyptian archaeologist Dr. Rihan. “It’s not about skin color,” he added. “To say such a thing would, against all evidence, exclude the Egyptians from their own history,” he said.

Dr. Soliman began working on excavations in Egypt as a student before joining the museum. He is one of the leaders of a museum-related team that usually spends several weeks each year in the village of Saqqara, just south of Cairo, excavating tombs in the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis.

Witness photographs of Howard Carter’s famous discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, unlike any previous European or American-led archaeological excavation. The Leiden Archaeological Team focuses on the contributions of Egyptian workers, prominently featured in photographs and photographs. online diary About the excavation of each season. These efforts are consistent with a growing trend in Egyptology to give greater prominence in the field to Egyptians who were once neglected in the study of their country’s history.

But it mattered little when word spread about Dr. Soliman’s exhibit.

The Dutch museum appeared somewhat taken aback by the tone of social media criticism, saying it would welcome “respectful dialogue” but would remove racist or offensive comments.

Scholars tend to study ancient Egypt as part of the Mediterranean world, with cultural and political ties to Greece and Rome, and Nubia, which is largely congruent with present-day Sudan.

Although there is no scientific consensus on the appearance or ethnic ancestry of the ancient Egyptians, many classical scholars believe that the ancients did not classify people as they do today, so it was completely inappropriate to talk about race at that time. said it was appropriate.

Modern Egyptians, like the dialect they speak, descend from a family tree with many branches. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks and Albanians all conquered Egypt centuries ago. Circassians arrived as slaves, Levantine Arabs and Western Europeans as businessmen. Nubians still live in southern Egypt.

However, Islam and Arabic now predominate, linking Egypt with the Arab and Muslim-majority Middle East and North Africa rather than with the rest of the continent on which Egypt is located.

“Egypt is in a category of its own,” says Cambridge University historian David Aboulafia, who studies the ancient world. “Bumping everyone together often results in a loss of nuance in representing African history as a block.”

But for Dutch rapper Typhoon, Egyptian exceptionalism feeds on unreliable European theories “used to determine which ancient cultures were considered important and therefore could not belong to Africa”. , he said on the audio tour.

Such theories “separated ancient Egypt from its African context,” he says.

Nina Segal Contributed to a report from Amsterdam.

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