National Geographic : 2017 May
142 national geographic • May 2017 “I don’t have anything to do,” Shaben said. “Everybody is waiting.” He was 26, and most of the others were even younger. All were educated: curators, interior designers, restoration specialists. In Egypt about 60 percent of the population is under the age of 30, and young people dominated the Tahrir pro tests. They’ve also paid the highest price for the revolution’s failure. Since the coup there’s been a brutal crackdown on dissent, and Egyptian jails are home to tens of thousands of political pris oners, many of them young. Nearly a third of the country’s youth are unemployed. Shaben told me that he and other government employees were re quired to come and sit idly every day, despite the fact that construction on the facility had halted. He gave me a tour of the museum, which fea tured five floors, 14 exhibition halls, and a theater, everything unfinished and open to the elements. A pack of stray dogs had taken up residence inside the museum; the site was strewn with tiles, rebar, and rusting airconditioner ducts. “Look out for the bats,” Shaben said, when we entered the the ater. He told me that someday it will seat 800. A young antiquities inspector named Ahmed Gaafar accompanied us, complaining that the political upheaval had stymied his career as a curator. This pattern seems eternal, from the graves of Amarna to the frustration of Tahrir: In every time and in every place, revolutions eat the young. Gaafar mentioned Egypt’s recent presidential election, which had been won by Abdel Fattah elSisi, the general who had led the coup that ousted Morsi, the Islamist leader. Gaafar saw a connection between this coup and Akhenaten’s era. “Some people say that Morsi is like Akhen aten, and Sisi is like Horemheb,” Gaafar said. “Horemheb liberated Egypt from a theocratic state that was growing weaker and weaker.” He continued, hopefully: “And he prepared the way for the Ramesside period, which was the greatest in Egyptian history. It’s the same with Sisi—he’s preparing Egypt to be great again.” that SentiMent—preparing Egypt to be great again—is far older than Sisi or even Akhenaten. he said. “Eighty percent of the encroachment has happened since the revolution.” The revolution also halted construction of the Aten Museum, the most impressive building in Minya. Designed by German and Egyptian ar chitects, the modernist structure rises nearly 200 feet beside the Nile, in a shape reminiscent of a pyramid. In all of Egypt, Akhenaten is the only pharaoh who is still being honored by the creation of monumental architecture. It’s a tes tament to the fact that the country’s Muslim leaders embrace Akhenaten’s popular identity as a monotheist, but nevertheless his legacy can’t seem to escape political upheaval. More than $10 million was spent on the museum before the funding abruptly ended, a victim of the post Tahrir economic collapse. One day I visited the site and found 11 em ployees sitting in a darkened office with the air conditioning off. Outside it was 109°F. Moham med Shaben introduced himself as the museum’s IT manager and apologized for the heat—they had no electricity. I asked what an IT manager does without electricity. AMARNA ART PORTRAYED AKHENATEN GIVING PRIZES TO SYCOPHANTS AND PARADING AROUND WITH DEFERENTIAL BODYGUARDS.