It all started a few months ago when a self-confessed jihadist, who had fought in Afghanistan, called for the destruction of the Pharaonic monuments, including the Pyramids, allegedly for being idols proscribed in Islam.
Other militant Islamists have since appeared on popular religious television channels, arguing that the Pharaonic relics are un-Islamic and deserving of contempt.
The other day, one radical preacher advised that a gold statue should be cut into pieces then being sold. "But if this statue were made of wood or stone, it should be completely destroyed," he said.
Another claimed that when the Arabs introduced Islam into Egypt in the seventh century, they did not destroy the Pharaonic monuments because these relics were buried beneath the sand and had yet to be unearthed!
The campaign against Egypt’s priceless treasures comes amid the national tourism industry’s terrible crisis, caused by the street unrest and the political turmoil, which have been gripping the country for months.
Tourism, a key foreign currency earner, is believed to have lost around $2.5 billion in the past two years. With tourism moribund, Egyptians' attention has recently been struck by reports claiming that an unidentified man from the oil-rich Arab Gulf has suggested that the Finance Ministry lease the nation's major archaeological attractions for $200 billion.
The Sphinx, the Giza Pyramids and Karnak Temple in Luxor were singled out for the outrageous proposal.
Instead of dismissing the suggestion as an affront to the nation’s dignity, the Finance Ministry, as documents published in an independent newspaper showed, referred it to the Ministry of Antiquities for consideration. The latter turned down the proposal.
The Cabinet denied in a statement any intention to lease Egypt's antiquities, stressing they are part of our cultural heritage.
Detractors of the Islamist-backed Government claim that the leak of the proposed offer to the media has embarrassed the authorities and forced them to drop it. However, these critics believe that, with the continued plummeting in Egypt's foreign currency reserves, the Government may accept a similar offer in the near future.