On 3 April, in an event billed as Mawkib al-Mumiyyat al-Malikiyya, or the “Parade of the Royal Mummies” (rendered in English as the “Pharaohs’ Golden Parade”), Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities moved the bodies of pharaonic-era rulers previously displayed in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum to the partially opened National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC), located on the banks of ʿAin al-Sira in Fustat. Moving south from Tahrir Square to the city founded under ʿAmr ibn al-ʿAs in AD 641 (itself located in close proximity to the Roman fortress of Babylon and the compound of “Coptic Cairo”), the procession neatly tied together the periods of Egyptian history connected to the state’s telling of its past: a story whose entwined genealogies in colonial adventurism, orientalist enquiry, and interwar firʿawniyya (or pharaonism) are by now well-known. Like many acts related to that lineage, the event also encompassed quite a spectacle: one in relation to whose route companies had apparently been busy purchasing advertising space. That pageant, meanwhile, went beyond simple chronology. In a lavish promotional video, the actor Hussein Fahmy explained—in Arabic, with English subtitles—that visitors from around the world had long visited the Egyptian Museum to understand “the story of a civilization that taught … the meaning of being civilized,” or tamaddun. Following the video’s narrative, the act of moving the royal remains to NMEC was only the latest chapter in this apparently timeless story of progress and urbanity.
This is not the first time, however, that pharaonic spectacle has been used to buttress the claims of iterations of the post-1952 Egyptian republic (or its predecessor entities) to a particular sort of civilizational character. One pharaoh in particular is central to that history: the “great Egyptian king” Ramses II, whose body, as the video declaimed, was one of the twenty-two to be moved to Fustat and located within NMEC’s “state-of-the-art exhibition and security systems.” Under Nasser, Ramses had taken on a similar role as dual marker of civilizational authenticity and modernity: the spectacle of the pharaoh and his monuments signifying Egypt’s revolutionary rebirth. The mutability of what Ramses has signified in the decades since, however, points to the instability of such notions—even as their character seems to persist in events like the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade. Pharaonic spectacle has always been unstable, due both to changes in the state’s political-economy and through Egyptians’ own questioning of that state.
The story begins in March 1955, when a colossal statue of Ramses was moved from Mit Rahina (ancient Memphis, located just south of Cairo) into the Egyptian capital’s center. Repurposing a plan originally set forward—but never carried out—by British Consul-General Lord Kitchener in 1914, the statue’s move was part of a series of wider urban changes actioned under the Free Officers, among them the creation of Cairo’s Nile-side corniche. Raised from where it had fallen in antiquity, the statue would become one of the centerpieces of this scheme: driven across the city, it was re-erected in the square outside Bab al-Hadid, or what was now renamed as Ramses Station. Following the figure’s restoration, press articles negated the plan’s colonial genealogy. Instead, they highlighted the authenticity of the workmen involved in the project at a time when Nasser—in the months after the resignation of Muhammad Naguib as Egypt’s first president—had started to consolidate his power as the country’s (now “revolutionary”) leader. One writer even stated that “it should be recalled that most of the workmen are from the Saʿid [Upper Egypt]. They take pride in the work … because they consider themselves the grandchildren of Ramses II.” Worked on by Egyptians who could be linked to the Upper Egyptian setting of ancient glories, Ramses became one of the most distinct symbols of the revolutionary project.
Not only would school textbooks praise Ramses II as a “good king.” Those readings would relate the re-erection of his statue as a moment in which the revolutionary—and later vocally pan-Arab—government “honored” this “courageous warrior.” Those same textbooks would also highlight another revolutionary intervention in which Ramses sat centrally, and which captured global attention in a way that the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade aimed to in 2021. As the floodwaters of the Aswan High Dam began to submerge the region of Nubia, so the many ancient temples there—several of which had been built under Ramses II—faced submersion (as did the homes of the Nubian population, who were ultimately forced to migrate). Consequently, from 1960 until 1980, Egypt and Sudan worked with UNESCO to run an international campaign dedicated both to archaeological excavation in the region and to the preservation of those structures. One of that project’s most famous acts involved the cutting up and reassembly at a higher level of the two temples at Abu Simbel dedicated, respectively, to Ramses and his “Great Royal Wife” Nefertari. The same school textbooks that celebrated the re-erection of the pharaoh’s statue now narrated the preservation work at Abu Simbel in a similar way, glossing the fact that much of this work—impossible without Egyptian labor—was paid for with Egyptian pounds held by the US Embassy: profit from the sale of surplus wheat to Egypt as part of the “Food for Peace” program.
In the decades after the Nubian campaign, this Cold War quid pro quo altered in a way that reflected changes in the global political economy. Now, it was debt—and the increasing promotion of such financing through international development—that would reshape the display of the past in the urban environment. NMEC is itself a product of this context, albeit in a way that illustrates what happens when little such financing is available. Initiated as a concept through the 1982 launch of UNESCO’s International Campaign for Egyptian Museums, NMEC’s existence has been constituted by the trickle of funding that the project’s trust fund—and UNESCO’s consistently depleted coffers—have provided, even as the Mubarak years saw increased effort directed toward the opening of museums across Egypt. The 1982 campaign (conceived as a follow-up to the work in Nubia) gave priority to another project—the Nubia Museum in Aswan, which opened in 1997—and NMEC’s cornerstone was laid in the presence of Suzanne Mubarak only in 2004. Further losing impetus in the period after the 2011 revolution, a temporary exhibit opened at the museum in 2017. It is the lack of any other international backing for NMEC up to that point, however, that explains its opening now.
Instead, another Mubarak-era project is servicing the loans that Egypt has taken on, and is also one in which Ramses, again, has played a central role. In 2006, the Egyptian government moved the pharaoh’s statue back from Ramses Station to a location adjacent to the Great Pyramid on the Giza plateau. Retracing most of his earlier route in reverse, Ramses—in a move less spectacular, but equally as media-friendly, as the Pharaohs' Golden Parade—now became a symbol of another Egyptian government’s ambitions. The statue’s new location was the site of the still-to-be-completed Grand Egyptian Museum: an institution conceived as a partner to NMEC, whose construction has been funded since 2008 by soft loans funneled through JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Moving Ramses to Giza constituted not only a symbol of the Mubarak regime’s intentions, but also a signal to international debtors that Egypt was a state that would, now and in the future, repay investment. At the time of writing, the current Egyptian leadership is pushing hard for the Grand Egyptian Museum’s completion. Pictures of the Ramses statue often sit at the center of this work, alongside images of the conservation labs and Egyptian specialists charged with caring for the thousands of objects that form the institution’s collection.
Like NMEC, then—and like the 1955 restoration of Ramses—the vision at hand is one of authenticity and progress, and of the soundness of contemporary Egypt as a state that guards and promotes its peoples’ (manifest, and often untapped) talents. Returning to Hussein Fahmy’s introduction to the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade, we learn that another of the monarchs moved to NMEC, Amenhotep III, was responsible for “maintaining stability and prosperity” in Egypt during his reign. Making this point, Fahmy’s use of al-istiqrār to denote said “stability” is meaningful: that notion being the quality that, post-2011, politicians from Ahmad Shafiq to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have highlighted as important to Egypt above all else. Parading Amenhotep III through Cairo emphasized that such stability was now in place, and in a state that could afford the spectacle (even as it could not apparently pay for the rail upgrades that might have prevented the deaths of nineteen of its citizens a week earlier in a train crash in Sohag, and even as it continues the demolition of housing that comes as a corollary to the construction of touristic landscapes like the one at NMEC).
In a situation harking back to the complexity of contemporary reactions to Nasserism itself, many people undoubtedly enjoyed—and took pride in the talents on display in—the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade, even as others were critical of the spectacle or took to mocking it: the (exiled) writer Ahmed Naji tweeted out an image of the monarchs’ coffins draped in the (contemporary) national flag with the comment that “they decided to treat them as martyrs or what?” Regardless of perspective, though, it is the breach between representation and reality that is striking: a gap emphasized by the fate of another colossal Ramses II statue lying at Mit Rahina and still lying prone in the site’s museum. That figure has itself played a part in Egyptian spectacle, albeit in a very different way. One of the more arresting scenes in Hussein Kamal’s 1971 film Chitchat on the Nile (Tharthara fawqa al-Nil) involves its protagonists running into the museum and climbing over and caressing the colossus, which now took on a different kind of revolutionary symbolism. Based on the 1966 Naguib Mahfouz novel Adrift on the Nile, the film came to symbolize the limit of assertions about revolutionary revival—and the action that might be taken against anyone who questioned them.
Originally appearing the year before the naksa (setback) of the 1967 Six-Day War, the story criticizes the decadence of contemporary Egyptian society, following a listless civil servant (played in the film by ʿEmad Hamdi) as he falls into smoking hashish with a group of friends on a houseboat on the Nile. Those same friends smoke hash sitting on Ramses, too, before running over a pregnant villager with their car. Egyptians, the story claimed, really were adrift, even as the High Dam and Abu Simbel seemed to soar, and even as the other Ramses statue had stood in Cairo for over a decade. When the film was released, it was quickly banned, even as Nasser himself had died the year previously. Anwar al-Sadat was concerned about the reaction to his predecessor’s legacy, despite promoting his own Thawrat al-Taṣḥīḥ, or “Corrective Revolution” as a supposed rebuke to Nasserist excesses. Considering this history, the question is what anxieties the latest pharaonic procession reveals, what criticisms will attend to it, and how such comment will be treated.
 At least according to https://egyptindependent.com/video-400-channels-to-broadcast-the-royal-procession-of-mummies/
 My discussion of this and other events highlighted in this piece draws on my article “Heritage, Preservation, and Decolonization: Entanglements, Consequences, Action?” Future Anterior: Journal of Historic Preservation History, Theory, and Criticism 16, no. 2 (2019): ii–xxiv.
 On Ramses, see Donald Malcolm Reid, Contesting Antiquity in Egypt: Archaeologies, Museums, & the Struggle for Identities from World War I to Nasser (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press). On Cairo and its remaking see e.g. Mohamed Elshahed, Cairo Since 1900: An Architectural Guide (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press).
 On this process (and the statue in general), cf. Amr Bayoumi (dir.), “Ramses Rah Fayn?” [“Where Did Ramses Go?”], a 2019 documentary relating the statue’s story.
 “Ramsis al-Thani Yaqifu ʿala Qadamayhi!” [“Ramses II Stands on His Feet!”], al-Musawwar, August, 12, 1955.
 Gerard Coudougnan, Nos ancêtres les Pharaons: l'histoire pharaonique et copte dans les manuels scolaires égyptiens (Cairo: Centre d'Études et de Documentation Économique, Juridique et Sociale, 1988), 97.
 Ibid., Coudougnan’s words.
 Lucia Allais, “Integrities: The Salvage of Abu Simbel,” Grey Room 50 (2013): 6–45.
 Interviewed in 2017, Mahrous Said, then NMEC’s Director, stated that “the challenge is to find funding. When we have the funds, we will finish our permanent exhibition within two to three years.” For the quote, see: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/egypt-revives-major-museum-projects-six-years-after-revolution
 For the train crash, see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-56540229. On demolitions related to NMEC, see https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypt-mummies-parade-hundreds-families-evicted-make-way-regeneration
 For the complexity of reactions to Nasserism (in a piece which is highly relevant in terms of thinking through the reactions to the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade), see Alia Mossallam, “‘We Are the Ones Who Made This Dam “High”!’, Water History 6, no. 4 (2014): 297–314. For Ahmed Naji’s Tweet, see
 For Chitchat on the Nile, see Joel Gordon, Revolutionary Melodrama: Popular Film and Civic Identity in Nasser’s Egypt (Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2002), 233–35.