Could Egypt’s Pyramids Be Destroyed?

Destroy the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx? Murgan Salem al-Gohary, a leader of Egypt’s ultra-conservative Salafist party, recently called on Muslims to do just this on Egyptian Dream TV. According to Gohary, Egypt’s iconic cultural treasures must be eliminated as a “religiously mandated act of iconoclasm,” for the same reasons as Mullah Omar and the Afghan Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan in March of 2001.

Claiming that he had indeed participated in blowing up the Buddhas, Gohary said:

“The idols and statutes that fill Egypt must be destroyed. Muslims are tasked with applying the teachings of Islam and removing these idols, just like we did in Afghanistan when we smashed the Buddha statues.

With the sight of the majestic Buddha statues being blasted with dynamite still fresh, the thought of a similar fate occurring to the pyramids is chilling. In Foreign Policy, Ian Straughn suggests that Gohary’s threat is certainly geared to grab media attention and all the more in today’s post-Arab Spring Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists are in power and while debates about the status of women and of minorities and about Egypt’s relations with the West are ongoing.

The Pyramids Have Faced Threats To Their Existence For Centuries

The pyramids have faced numerous threats since they were erected by the pharaohs. In the ancient world alone, Egypt was under the rule of the Persians and the Romans. In medieval times, the pyramids’ limestone casement was pillaged to build cities (including Cairo).

Starting in the 19th century, amateur archaeologists helped to awaken the world to the artifacts hidden in tombs in Egypt. But they also oversaw the transporting (some would say pillaging) of numerous archaeological finds into foreign museums, many of which are now in awkward disputes with Egypt’s government over repatriating objects. Today, pollution of a sort the ancients could never have fathomed threatens numerous ancient sites.

Many of us in the West were riveted by the image of Egyptians guarding the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square during the protests that would lead to the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Those archaeological treasures, and the Sphinx and the pyramids, are part of the world’s cultural heritage and must be protected not only by Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities but also by international governments. This is common knowledge if not common sense to many of us.

Reconciling the Pyramids and Muslim Beliefs

As Straughn details, since the medieval age, Islamic scholars and others have sought to understand — to reconcile their religious beliefs to — the pyramids and other remains of Egypt’s long past. On seeing the destruction of antiquities, al-Masudi, a 10th century Muslim traveler in Egypt, argued that respecting these is “not incompatible with Islam.” Ancient structures and objects indeed “strengthen the Quranic injunction to search out and contemplate the lessons (‘ibar) which the divine has left for believers in the landscape.”

Today, even while very much aware of “the role that these ruins play in the economy and various state efforts to represent Egypt as a modern-day heir to one of the world’s great civilizations,” Straughn notes that there is “a palpable discomfort with this promotion and glorification of a pre-Islamic past.” It could be said that, as in Italy, there is something of a “love-hate” push-and-pull with the country’s archaeological heritage, which engulfs tremendous amounts of resources “at the expense of the welfare of an Islamic past, present, and future.”

Tourism accounts for more than 11 percent of Egypt’s economy, which has struggled in the post-Mubarak era; the importance of the pyramids and other ancient sites is certainly understood. The pyramids, in Straughn’s estimation, are not likely to suffer the fate of the Buddhas of Bamiyan; Gohary’s call to destroy the pyramids encapsulates “the broader debate within the religion [of Islam] over how to orient itself after the Arab Spring.”

The recent collision of a schoolbus with a train — resulting in at least 50 dead, most young children — suggests that Egypt still falls short in addressing issues like safety on its roadways. The pyramids are likely to remain a point of debate and even contention so long as Egypt remains a place that many associate more with its past than the very real demands of its present.


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Photo by tom@hk | 湯米tomhk


Kelly S
Past Member about a month ago


elizabeth longley

I've been very lucky - have visited Egypt 5 times, and have been inside the Great Pyramid; have laid my hands on the great blocks of stone that the ancient Egyptian workmen put in place all those thousands of years ago. I have gazed at the Pyramids - and the great Sphinx - in absolute awe. And I have walked in the Valley of the Kings and gazed down at the mummy of Tutankhamen, still lying in his beautifully painted tomb, as well as visited many of the tombs and temples along the banks of the Nile and seen the treasures in the Cairo Museum. The Mask of Tutankhamen is, for me, the greatest, the most fantastically beautiful treasure the world has ever seen - or ever will see. Nothing compares to it. To think that these glorious things may be destroyed by religious extremists makes me feel sick with fear - it would be the greatest loss of historical artefacts the world will ever see. To Kathy P, Nancy C and all the others who love Egypt and want to see it's treasures - do it if you possibly can. You will never regret it, and you'll have wonderful memories of a mystical, ancient land that will stay with you all your life.

Neil A.
Neil A4 years ago

This guy is such an idiotic power seeker who believes som Rubbish about Allah who does not possibly exist anymore than any other God all fairy tales to grab & hold power for EVIL young & OLD MEN to suppress women & the Masses. I have met a lot of them & even the mild ones just want to hold WOMEN down, just stupidly unnecessary free women are much better than Suppressed!

James D.
James D.5 years ago

Just typical Islamist s destroy everything. It would put a downer on Tourism for sure and a great loss to Humanity.

pam w.
pam w5 years ago

It's BECAUSE they're such a powerful symbol to the world that religious fundamentalists would like to ''control'' them by their destruction.

Anyone who's seen the tomb paintings with all the lovely little half-nude dancing girls or the lovely tomb goods of Tutankamen, for example, knows immediately why Islamists would HATE them....they're sensual NUDES with breasts and cute little bottoms....thighs, etc.

"What can we do?" Stand by and weep....once some loon decides to blow them up....they're gone.

I worry about the antiquities in Cairo's many carelessly guarded.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

If someone ruins the pyramids so help me they will NOT get away with it. Egypt has been my favorite place to learn about and such since grade school, it is my PASSION. I have to see these. I just HAVE too. I could literally cry thinking about any of Egypts history being damaged or lost, especially before I get to see them for real. What can we do?

Farah A.
Farah A.5 years ago

Wow... I'm Muslim Egyptian and I think It's pretty stupid. It has NOTHING to do with Islam. It's what made Egypt on the map, we don't need it destroyed. I'm speaking the truth here. The pyramids are a big part of the culture.

Nancy Collins
Nancy Collins5 years ago

I NEVER EVER thought this would happen! I've wanted to go to Egypt since I was 4 years old just to see the pyramids at Giza! Now for me there is no point to go to Egypt!

Klaus Peters
Klaus Peters5 years ago

It would be Egypt's loss to wipe out its history and become another Islam victim of utter destruction, just like Afghanistan. I have been there, rode a camel to the pyramids, loved it, visited the Cairo National Museum, very educating. Now lets blow up Egypt's history, go ahead, wipe yourselves off the map. But do not forget, you are the loosers.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

That would really be a shame. Saddam Housain did it in Irac too though.