Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – IX. Historical Context (1 of 3)

Egypt can be a baffling country to outsiders.  Over the years, I was asked many questions.

How is it that you (and many other Egyptians) speak an impeccable French and indeed consider it your native language?  Isn’t Arabic supposed to be your mother tongue?  (I have previously stated that in effect I have two native languages:  French and Arabic).

Why is it that other educated Egyptians that also came to Canada do not speak French?

How is it that other educated Egyptians are not Westernized?

Why are Westernized Egyptians not willing to admit that they are Egyptians?  They’ll tell you that they are French, Italian, Greek, and so on.  It’s as if they do not take pride in belonging to such a rich and ancient civilization.  (I personally always proudly proclaimed that I was Egyptian; hence the reason why all these questions were addressed to me).

Egypt is not a bewildering country to outsiders only; many Egyptians (including myself) are just as confused!  It doesn’t mean that I cannot answer the above questions.  I can, but not in a definitive way.  To elucidate the above mysteries, I need to go back to certain historical events.

Napoleon in Egypt

The Napoleonic campaign in Egypt lasted only three years and three weeks – from 1798 to 1801.  Its impact on Egypt, however, was immeasurable; it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is felt to the present day.

Behind the expedition were a number of motives:  Economics, the French have seen the benefits of Britain profitable colonies; weaken Britain; and most important satisfy the personal ambition of General (he was not yet emperor) Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon succeeded in persuading France’s government to invade Egypt, expel the ruling Mamelukes, and establish a modern government attuned to French ways.

Napoleon expeditionary force included some 40,000 men. Attached to the army were about 500 civilians made out of artists, scientists, scholars, engineers, and technicians.  This group of Savants (known to the troops as “The Donkeys”) was to have an incalculable effect on Egypt.

The French confronted the Mamelukes in a place called El Rahmaniya.  The Mamelukes forces vastly outnumbered the French; their army had 120,000 men; as well, they were fierce, and excellent horsemen.  Ultimately, their bravery was no match to the European weapons and tactics, and they were soundly defeated.

This first victory was followed by other triumphs, but there were setbacks.  In the final count, the Egyptian expedition proved a failure.  Admiral Horatio Nelson defeat of the French navy at Aboukir proved to be the last nail in the coffin of the French venture.

The defeat at Aboukir cut the French army’s supply lines.  Other defeats followed.  In time, Bonaparte came to terms with the fact that Egypt would not at this time be a French dominion.

In June 1801, Napoleon made secret plans to return to France.

On August 22, Bonaparte sneaked through the British blockade and sailed to France.  Behind him, he left the French army under one of his generals, Kleber.  Also left behind were scientists and scholars who changed Egypt’s makeup forever.  They are the ones that are of interest to us.

Books have been written on the impact of the French brief visit to Egypt.  Here, I am only selecting the most important accomplishments of Napoleon’s Savants.

1) When Napoleon first saw the pyramids at Giza, he was awestruck by the grandeur of these ancient monuments.  He told his army:  “Du haut de ces pyramides 40 siecles vous contemple.”  (From the top of these pyramids 40 centuries are looking down at you).  He managed to communicate his enthusiasm to his men.  The desire to learn more about the builders of such magnificent monuments (and the pyramids were not the only ones) gave birth to Egyptology.  Egypt Pharaonic past was about to emerge from the shadows.

In July 1799, captain Francois-Xavier Bouchard, an engineer and officer, was in charge of the demolition of an ancient wall in the city of Rosetta.  Built into the wall was an intriguing stone which included writing in three scripts:  Greek, Egyptian demotic, and Egyptian hieroglyphic.  Bouchard recognized that the stone might make it possible to decipher hieroglyphics.  It was therefore taken to Cairo and entrusted to the scientists.

The text itself is a priestly decree issued during the Ptolemy era, and it is not particularly interesting.  However, because the texts of each of the Egyptian scripts is the same as the Greek text, which scholars were able to translate quickly, the Rosetta stone became the key to deciphering for the first time the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.  It fell upon a scholar named Champollion to undertake this task; and he completed its successfully.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the Rosetta stone.  It allowed us to understand the language of the ancient Egyptians, and follow their history.  Their monuments and the mysterious symbols on them ceased to be an enigma.  The stones could now speak to us and tell us incredible tales.

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