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The curse of the pharaohs

Zahi Hawass

Published: Updated:

Last Saturday, Egypt held the “Pharaohs Golden Parade” to transport the ancient Egyptian royal mummies through the streets of Cairo, which sparked a lot of talk among the Egyptian people about myths and superstitions. Some tour guides and journalists even spread rumors that this parade has placed Egypt under the curse of the pharaohs. They even went so far as to say that this had something to do with the Panama-flagged container ship that ran aground inside the Suez Canal, which caused Egypt to lose about $14 million a day. They also tied the curse to incidents like the apartment building which collapsed in the Gesr Suez district in Cairo, leading to the death of many residents, as well as the two trains that collided near the city of Tahta in the Sohag province, which also resulted in the deaths of many Egyptians. It came to the point that a friend of mine called me to say, “Would you please call the Minister of Tourism Khaled Al-Anani and convince him to cancel the transfer of the mummies?” When I asked him about the reason, he said, “My wife and I along with our children tested positive with Covid-19 because of the mummies.”

I explained that this is not the first time we transfer mummies. In fact, they were transferred after the discovery of Tomb TT320, otherwise known as the Royal Cache, which is an Ancient Egyptian tomb located next to Deir el-Bahri, as well as the tomb of Pharaoh Amenhotep II. The mummies were transported to Cairo several times, first in 1881 passing through customs labeled as “salted fish” because the customs officer did not find the word mummy in the customs books. Furthermore, the remains of the mummy of King Ramses II were unwrapped in front of Khedive Tawfiq in 1886, and then transferred again to the Boulaq Museum. The museum was later flooded, so the mummies were transferred for a third time to Ismail Pasha Palace in Giza. After the Egyptian Museum was established in 1902, the mummies were transferred to it, but they were not presented to the public until 1958. It should also be noted that during this transfer no events were attributed to the curse of the pharaohs.

Personally, I have had several incidents that the press attributed to the curse of the pharaohs, especially when I examined the mummy of King Tutankhamun with a CT scan. I was waiting at the hotel for Dr. Mostafa Waziri (the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities), and on our way to the valley, the driver suddenly slammed the brakes and almost ran over a child, Waziri laughed and said that was the beginning of the curse. A while later, my sister called to tell me that her husband had passed away. When we finally arrived at the Valley of the Kings, I received another call from Yasser Shibl, Farouk Hosny's secretary, who was the Minister of Culture at the time, informing me that the minister had suffered a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. Afterwards, during my interview with a Japanese news channel, a sudden and violent rainstorm started pouring down like never before in the valley. And when we took the mummy out and placed it inside the CT machine, the machine stopped working for an hour, and, naturally, the journalists forgot all about the studies we carried out to examine the mummy and only discussed the curse of Tutankhamun instead. The mystery behind the curse is that the presence of a mummy inside a cemetery that has been closed for thousands of years leads to developing many germs. In the past, archaeologists would enter the cemetery with no precautions and would become exposed to those deadly germs. Now, however, we leave the graves open for proper ventilation before entering them.

So finally, all that can be said in this regard is that there is no such thing as the curse of the pharaohs, and it is merely an old wives' tale.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

Read more:

Egypt to move 22 ancient mummies across Cairo in majestic parade to new museum

Egyptian mummies of kings and queens paraded through Cairo on way to new museum

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.