Tut-tut Tut doomed or entombed?

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

June 28 2011

Philip Whitfield

Cairo: Belt tightening isn’t enough. Beggars can’t be choosers they say when the kitty’s dwindling. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are funding feeding fellahin foul. Egypt could weigh up some assets worth more than their weight in gold: Tutankhamun?

Instead of borrowing into oblivion, turn the tables on the foreign bankers rubbing their hands at the prospect of drowning Egypt in debt. Offer a lease and sale deal for King Tut.

Sounds farfetched? Tutankhamun and Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibitions make $100 million a year crisscrossing America. At home the country’s archaeological mausoleums only rake in $80 million pay dirt digging dirt. Tut-a-mania tourists are putting off coming to Egypt. And Tut’s ultimate resting place at the yet to be built Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza is some years away.

Put on the thinking cap. Instead of charging foreign museums $20 million a year staging Tut fests more drastic solutions might be considered.

Let’s make a Tut-plan. The world’s 20 major museums in the United States, Europe and Asia request their governments to pony up $1 billion each to rent Tut – loose change for those sending good money after bad to Greece, Portugal and who knows next.

Under the Tut-plan each government gets the equivalent of 10 percent interest on the $1 billion leasing fee out of the $100 million a year Tut rakes in currently.

Egypt has the benefit of $ 20 billion. Invested at 10 per cent, and saving paying 12.75 percent issuing bonds, Egypt benefits by about $4.5 billion extra a year, a Revolution Bonus for each of Egypt’s 17 million families.

Under the Tut-plan Egypt doesn’t borrow a penny. There’s $20 billion in the reserves. Tut’s where he spends most of his time anyway: in museums abroad. The donor countries are assured of their investment. No beefing up their embassies to check their collateral is safe, as they do now. Tut’s on their dry land.

Egypt could also arm lock the governments that refuse to return the Rosetta Stone (UK), the Bust of Nefertiti (Germany) and the Dendera Zodiac (France), all purloined by itchy-fingered colonialists years ago.

Rather than harry them, Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s minister for antiquities could offer to deal: pay Egypt an annual leasing fee (another $10 billion) and Egypt’s Revolutionary Bonus goes up to EGP 200 a month per family.

When the leases run out, Tutankhamun comes home to his new digs in Giza. The 10 million foreign tourists will be back then and there’s a new reason to come and visit.

Egypt rescues itself from the claws of debt. Foreign banks aren’t exposed to more dodgy lending.

Think this is stupid? The government mulled it over when Tut was discovered.

After The Times of London disclosed the find on November 30 1922 Egypt went into a paroxysm. Hysterics howled: hawk Tut and the contents of the coffins within the sarcophagus – the golden mask of the Pharaoh, the diadem embellished with cobra and vulture, the 16-row cloisonné pectoral, armlets, rings and much more.

While the archaeologist Howard Carter and his chum Lord Carnarvon went back to Luxor, the powers that be vacillated and plonked the lot in the Cairo Museum.

The world and his wife came to visit. Elisabeth, Queen of the Belgians; British prime minister Lloyd George; the French actress Cécil Sorel and the Maharaja of Poona made pilgrimages to the site of the Pharaoh’s tomb.

Egyptian Railways put on a Tutankhamun Special between Cairo and Luxor for the mobs of tourists from Japan and America anxious to see the Valley of the Kings where the 18-year-old boy king had been buried since 1352 BC.

Why not stir passion once more? The curse of the Pharaohs? In the hot debate in the 1920s over what to do about Tut protagonists argued selling Tut’s gilt would gild the nation’s lily. Antagonists countered: expect revenge if Tutankhamun’s tomb were desecrated.

Ancient Egyptians believed the sun descended to the King of the Dead every evening to overpower the forces of darkness. The sun shared the radiance of eternity during the night before returning at dawn to climb to the heavens once more.

Desecration, it was argued would end in death.

Some say Tut took his revenge. Carter’s buddy Lord Carnarvon died suddenly in 1923 after being bitten by an insect. The Curse of the Pharaohs legend was born. Fearful collectors descended on the British Museum to rid themselves of Tut-like treasures.

Flushed with $30 billion to spend on bug spray, Egypt’s could zap clouds of killer-mosquitoes the gods bid bite blaspheming blaggards.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin.



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