"Don't judge a book by its cover" is a well-known metaphorical phrase meaning that one should not pre-judge a thing by its outward appearance alone. It would also apply literally to the book under review here. From the first impression of the cover one would expect a book that is more esoteric or occult in its content than turns out to be the case. The front cover is dominated by a striking image of Maat, the Ancient Egyptian Goddess of Truth and Justice, or Divine Order, appearing as a living stone statue of great antiquity and power. She is recognisable by her symbolic image of a stylised feather, standing vertically from her head-dress. From a crouching position she holds out her arms which are also a fine pair of feathered wings. In her right hand she holds aloft to the heavens a large Ankh, the key and symbol of Life itself. Other vaguely esoteric images make up the background: parts of ancient temples, a brilliant star casting its rays from above, and a galaxy of scattered stars receding into infinity. On first sight, one is attracted and intrigued to delve into the book for its secrets and new revelations. I'm sorry to give the game away in this review, but there aren't any. What you do get, and for this it is worth reading by anyone interested in Egypt, is its history and development from ancient times to the present year of 2015.
Apart from the book's appealing cover, its title and sub-title would also indicate that the authors have found a way to heal the troubles of modern-day Egypt, and its role in the world, by the application of some arcane knowledge and philosophy drawn or discovered from its glorious ancient past. In that sense, the book is a disappointment, particularly as the leading co-author is none other than Robert Bauval, whose previous works of great distinction include The Orion Mystery (with Adrian Gilbert) Keeper of Genesis and The Message of the Sphinx (both with Graham Hancock). His most recent work, published in 2014, is Secret Chamber Revisited: The Quest for the Lost Knowledge of Ancient Egypt. As those titles indicate, as well as all his other works, Bauval has a great track record of researching and presenting esoteric knowledge to enlighten the modern-day reader. His name appearing on a new publication naturally raises certain expectations.
With regard to the other co-author, Ahmed Osman, although not quite so famous as Bauval he also has an impressive list of scholarly but controversial works behind him, such as Moses, Pharaoh of Egypt: The Mystery of Akhenaten Resolved (1990). In this and several other books Osman argues that Moses and Akhenaten were one and the same person. He claims that the word 'Aten' is related to the Hebrew word 'Adonai', a sacred name for God, meaning 'Lord'. It is of course well-known that Akhenaten was the 'heretic' Pharaoh who introduced the sun-disc symbol of the Aten to represent the worship of the supreme God or Source, above all other gods, and therefore a monotheistic religion.
With such a pedigree of writing controversial material that challenges orthodoxy and provides fresh insight on ancient history and scripture, what was the authors' purpose in writing this book? In their own words from Page 3: "For ancient Egypt had indeed a soul, given to her by the gods. And her soul became the soul of the world. It was said that Thoth, ancient Egypt's most revered sage and the wisest of all men, had called Egypt the 'mirror of heaven' and 'the temple of the world'. Yet it was also said that, in his ability to see into the future, he predicted that Egypt would eventually fall into the wrong hands and so prophesied that on that day the gods will abandon her, and with them will also go her soul. Yet, in this same prophecy, Thoth left a tantalizing glimmer of hope that when the time is right, the gods will return to Egypt and restore her soul. We firmly believe the right time for this restoration is now, and our book is our testimony to this belief."
Their previous joint collaboration Breaking the Mirror of Heaven: The Conspiracy to Suppress the Voice of Ancient Egypt (2012) had a clear purpose, to oppose and ridicule certain orthodox Egyptologists, in particular Zahi Hawass. Anyone with an open mind can find anomalies with orthodox Egyptology, where there are vested interests among academics and the institutes that support them. So many subjects, such as the age of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid, or the origin of the astonishingly advanced culture and technology of Ancient Egypt, arouse great speculation and argument. Therefore there will always be a great market for anything new or 'alternative' as this book appears to be, and quite frankly publishers are in business to market and sell books.
Both authors were born in Egypt, Osman in 1934 and Bauval in 1948. Some biographical details appear throughout the book under review here which give the work more human interest. It is clear that they are well qualified to present an insider's view of Egypt's highly diverse history and culture, and overall the book is very readable and informative. However, after reading the book in its entirety, albeit with some pleasure and the acquisition of useful historical facts, one is left feeling that the book is incomplete and falls short of its purported aim.
What we have here is a comprehensive overview of Egypt's history, with its political, religious and social aspects, all the way from ancient times to the present tumultuous year of 2015. Maybe that is the authors' problem: where to stop if the book is to be topical, and what to say about the ever-increasing chaos and conflict in the Middle Eastern region, of which Egypt is an integral part. But as to "Restoring the Spiritual Engine of the World"? The only hope presented by the end of the book is that Egypt's current President, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, is more moderate than his predecessors. If that seems to be a glib statement, consider the final paragraph of the main book:
"If el-Sisi and his government can deal seriously with the country's problems, Egyptians can still look forward to a better future. President el-Sisi seems to be genuinely interested in working hard for the future of his country, but the real guarantee is that Egypt now has a new constitution that gives the parliament great power to watch the government; it shares power with the president. Only when power is shared will maat come back to rule Egypt again with order and justice."
This all sounds very worthy, but it has the ring of something you would read in a quality Sunday newspaper: a trite political statement. This conclusion does not fulfil the expectations raised by book's cover and titles, which indicate that it contains some profound and original remedy for the excruciating dilemma facing the entire Middle East, and, by extension, all of humanity. Nor does it fulfil the authors' statement of intent quoted above. What of the "Soul of Ancient Egypt"? There is no clear evidence presented as to exactly how it is being revived at the present time, nor any indication of how the gods are ready to return.
Let us not forget: Ancient Egypt was the most advanced civilisation in the ancient world, apart from anything else it produced the Great Pyramid which demonstrates a technology and philosophy far advanced from anything else at the time. And even a schoolchild can tell you that this supreme civilisation was ruled by a "Pharaoh", who was, in effect, an absolute ruler. He was, however, answerable to the gods. As the authors point out, "The king, then, was not only the upholder of maat; he was maat. We also know that one of the most sacred oaths the king had to take at his coronation was that he would never allow any changes to the cosmic order."
All Pharaohs were initiated into the sacred mysteries and ancient wisdom. They were, in effect, both king and high priest. To put it in simple terms, they embodied divinity. They were brought up to be fully prepared to take on the great responsibility of being an absolute ruler over their nation. There is no suggestion from the authors of restoring the Pharaonic system of rulership with a royal bloodline and sacred initiations. Instead, they come to the conclusion after all that a modern democracy is the answer, in which power is shared with representatives of the people so as to provide checks and balances against any possible abuse of power by the ruler.
The central question seems to be this: 'How shall we govern ourselves?' But this is mainly a question for the chattering masses who get their fix from the media. Those who already hold power in this present world will only concern themselves with how to maintain power, and get more power. What makes it all fiendishly complex is that an absolute ruler may have other absolute rulers to deal with, and then it is a matter of trials of strength or alliances. The recent history of the world, and the Middle East in particular, shows this to be the case. To take one recent and topical example, Saddam Hussein was an absolute ruler, a modern-day dictator, who kept the lid on all of the extremely disparate elements of his country, Iraq. Sunni and Shia Moslems often inter-married. Minority groups, including Christians, lived in relative harmony.
Likewise in Libya, Muammar Gaddafi kept order in a potentially chaotic State. His example is highly relevant here. When Gaddafi became leader of Libya in 1967 it was one of the poorest nations of Africa. By the time of his assassination in 2011 it was the richest nation of Africa, with the highest GDP per capita. It shared that wealth with upwards of two million migrant workers from other African nations and Asia. There was virtually no discrimination and no social unrest. Now, in 2015, Libya is a failed state and its economy is a shambles. Large parts of the country are under the control of "Isis" Islamic extremists. There is no functional government and the entire country is in chaos and anarchy, with rival militias vying for regional power. In both countries there has been continual violence and disintegration since the 'intervention' of Western forces.
And in Egypt itself, after the bloody assassination of one of its most enlightened recent rulers, Anwar Sadat, who engineered a peace treaty with its most implacable enemy Israel, Hosni Mubarak came to power and kept relative order for over 20 years. In these three Arabic and Moslem countries their dictatorial rulers kept the kind of order which is essential for a civilised society to flourish. The ruthlessness with which they suppressed criminal elements and dissidents was a necessary evil for the greater good. Until the so-called Arab Spring that began in Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly spread to most other Arab countries, Mubarak continued to keep order in this way. He lost control in a nationwide outpouring of rebellion and revolution. The first spontaneous protests were quickly taken over by the Moslem Brotherhood, Islamic extremists, who took power after Mubarak's forced resignation on 11 February 2011. Mohammad Morsi was sworn in as president of Egypt on 30 June 2012. In the words of the authors: "A period akin to the terror of the French Revolution was about to begin and tear the country, quite literally, apart.
El-Sisis's rise to power must therefore be measured against the chaos that engulfed Egypt in recent years. Millions of citizens became sickened and incensed by the increasing Islamification of their country. A staggering 22 million people signed a petition for the removal of Morsi and his government. Morsi stubbornly refused to give way. "On 3 July 2013 the army, headed by el-Sisi, stepped in. In a flash move, Morsi and his and his top men were arrested and moved to an isolated place." El-Sisi, surrounded by national figures, addressed the nation on television to tell them what had happened. Overnight he became a national hero. But the Moslem Brotherhood were not going to surrender easily. After weeks of stalemate, in which thousands of supporters of Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood occupied large parts of Cairo and brought it to a virtual standstill, an ultimatum was issued. Still they would not disperse, so after further dire repeated warnings, on 14 August 2013, el-Sisi gave the order for the army to move in. "It was a miniblitzkrieg that lasted only a few hours. Inevitably there was a bloodbath, with hundreds dead and scores wounded."
As a result of this action, many international obervers think of el-Sisi as a butcher. For example, an article in the Daily Mail two weeks before el-Sisi's visit as President of Egypt to London in early November 2015 had this to say: "Field Marshal Sisi came to power after masterminding a bloody coup against a democratically elected government. More than 1,000 people were shot dead in Rabaa Square in Cairo as they protested against the military's takeover......Undoubtedly, there will be street protests against this butchering field marshal. I intend to join them."
To their credit, Bauval and Osman take a wise and measured view of all of this: "No normal and decent human being can rejoice at this sort of carnage. But many had to concede that el-Sisi was given no other choice but to act with force.......It was either this show of force, no matter how brutal and bloody it would be, or letting Egypt slip into anarchy and civil war.' They describe him as a 'strong and resolute leader, one who put aside world opinion and political backlash and did what had to be done to clean up the huge mess created by others."
Referring to the period immediately after the events of August 2013, the authors say: "What we at least saw in this swirling vortex of blood and confusion was that the time was nigh for the soul of Egypt to be restored. What was needed, though, for this miracle to happen, was for others to see this, especially el-Sisi." His popularity reached such a height that the double CC image denoting his name began appearing all over Egypt, and a referendum was held to persuade him to stand for election as President. He was being compared to Gamal Abdel Nasser, but with a marked difference: "In contrast to Nasser's boisterous speeches often full of empty promises and useless bravado, el-Sisi was a rather reserved and quiet man with his feet firmly on the ground. He seemed the very embodiment of stability, the thing that most people in Egypt now desperately yearned for."
Interestingly, most people were now talking about 'freedom with order, not freedom with chaos.' Although at first unwilling to stand for the presidency, he finally relented and on 28 May 2014 was elected in a landslide victory with 97% of the 23 million votes cast. The authors may be correct that this result is a sign of maat returning to Egypt. But even if it is, and order must certainly be preferred to chaos, there is still a long way to go. Egypt is facing problems on an apocalyptic scale. Islamic fundamentalism is a constant threat, both within its borders and from the adjoining anarchy in Libya and extremists operating in Sinai.
Only a few weeks after this book's publication, and a few weeks before the writing of this review, on 31 October 2015 an Airbus A321 operated by a Russian airline was brought down over Sinai by a bomb, killing all 224 people on board. Almost immediately, the government of the UK, followed by many other countries, banned all flights to Sharm el-Sheikh. Tourism is vital for the Egyptian economy, and it is estimated that the value of $280 million per month has been wiped off the income from tourism since that event. For many potential travellers, Egypt is now out of bounds until safety is assured, and that is a tall order for el-Sisi and his government. There is a crackdown on potential terrorists and dissidents. Human rights activists are inevitably accusing el-Sisi of being yet another dictator, but I agree with the authors that the role of a ruler is to keep order and stability in the face of anarchic forces. The majority of the peoples of Iraq, Libya and Syria would surely agree.
It is one thing to grumble about some undesirable aspects of a leader or government, and quite another thing to see that regime destroyed, and with it your home, family and the whole of your society. Britain had a taste of such breakdown of order during the Civil War of the 1640s, with many families divided and torn apart by mutual slaughter. After executing their king, Charles I, and enduring ten years of the Puritan dictator Cromwell, the people rejoiced to see the Restoration. Charles II represented not only freedom with order, but also enjoyment of life with stability. The authors emphasise the ancient Egyptian value of stability in the nation with an illustration of the Djed Pillar: "In ancient Egypt the principle of stability was the djed, a sort of stylized pillar meant to symbolize the 'backbone' of Osiris and often shown being placed into position by the pharaohs, an act that symbolized 'stability' under the law of maat."
There are other severe problems facing Egypt at the present time. From this book I learned an astonishing fact, that Egypt's population has increased from 23 million in 1964 to nearly 90 million at the end of 2015. An estimated 75% of the population is under the age of 25. Previous governments have failed to deal with this population explosion for fear of losing popularity. As the authors point out, such an increase is unsustainable.
|Grand Renaissance Dam`|
There is also a major challenge to Egypt's water supply: "In February 2011, five upstream African states, members of the Nile Basin, signed an agreement to draw more water from the Nile, which will result in Egypt getting less water than before. in 2011, Ethiopia began constructing its new Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, with a seventy-four billion cubic meter reservoir, which should begin operation in 2017. This dam, Egypt fears, will reduce the downstream flow of the Nile and result in the country's losing 20 to 30 percent of its share of Nile water, as well as a third of the electricity generated by its Aswan High Dam."
In the face of all of these enormous challenges and amidst the rising tide of Islamic extremism and war in the Middle East, there are some encouraging signs in Egypt. At least some order and stability has been restored. Let us hope this continues. As to whether the gods are about to return, we shall have to wait and see, won't we? Miracles do happen, and they would be very welcome now. -- Kevin Murphy.