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The Pharaohs in Brazil
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 28 - 03 - 2019

I have visited Brazil twice in the past but have never truly had the opportunity to understand its land and identity during those visits. The first time was in 2009 to attend the UNESCO World Heritage Conference in Brasilia. I stayed one week and only saw the conference hotel and the hotel in which I was staying.
The second time I was invited by Christopher Schultz, the organiser of the great replica exhibition on Tutankhamun that over time has become a very important educational exhibit. Schultz invited me to attend a museum conference in Rio de Janeiro, when I also stayed in a hotel outside the city.
There was a lot of construction work underway in Rio at that time in preparation for the Football World Cup in 2014. I remember we wanted to have dinner downtown, but it took the taxi more than two hours to get there because of the construction work.
In Egypt, Brazil is represented by a distinguished ambassador, Ruy Pacheco de Azevedo Amaral, who is truly like a prince and organises marvellous diplomatic functions. Not only does he have a smile full of pride, but he has also captured the hearts of many Egyptians.
I have become good friends with Amaral, and we have even created a group that we call the Cleopatra Group that contains around 25 ambassadors as members. The only two Egyptians in the group are Khaled El-Enany, the minister of antiquities and myself. The group was created more than five years ago when it was headed by Dragan Bisenic, the Serbian ambassador. Now it is headed by Michael-Christos Diamessis, the ambassador of Greece, while Amaral is the vice president.
At the end of 2018, I accepted an invitation to lecture in Brazil in a bid to encourage tourism to Egypt. The idea was especially encouraged by Amaral, so I decided to accept it. The invitation came through the Egyptian Embassy and tourism expert Sedik Faragallah who lives in Brazil and is married to a Brazilian. Our ambassador to Brazil, Alaa Roushdi, was very keen on sponsoring the visit because he wants to do his utmost to promote tourism in Egypt. He explained to me that Egypt and Brazil have a very strong economic relationship, and he spoke particularly well of Amaral.
The visit took almost 10 days and included three cities, São Paulo, Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro. This time I can say with confidence that I finally discovered Brazil. Not only are the people wonderful, but I also do not believe that there is a real crime problem in the country as some might claim. I got this impression mainly from visiting São Paulo and Curitiba, and I wrote this article before I visited Rio.
The country has tremendous potential and could become a top destination for visitors because it really has a bit of everything. I asked one Brazilian how it was that the country has so many resources but such a small population. He said that if they could stop corruption, the country would be even greater.
I arrived in São Paulo and was met at the airport by Mohamed Al-Khatib, the trade attaché of the Egyptian Embassy, as well as Faragallah. We went to dinner that evening, and Al-Khatib told me that Brazil exports meat and chickens to more than 160 countries worldwide. It also depends on taxes and customs fees. Egypt exports products to Brazil that are worth around $100 million, including cotton, clothing and furniture. It imports around $109 million worth of meat and chicken from Brazil.
Ambassador Roushdi informed me that in June 2019 around 155 businessmen, former governors and other figures from Brazil would be travelling to Egypt with the president of the country's Chamber of Commerce. They are going to be participating in a conference to which they have invited President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi because they want to strengthen the economic relationship between the two countries.
São Paulo is three times larger than Cairo, with a population of more than 20 million. The government provides a salary to the unemployed, and financial support is also given to the families of prisoners. São Paulo is called the “city of graffiti”, as this is everywhere on the streets and houses.
Many people say that out of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, 20 are located in Brazil. I have a hard time believing this, as I stayed a week in São Paulo and Curitiba and felt only peace in these cities. Many claim that Rio de Janeiro is different, however, with the government even placing military units in the streets to ensure stability.
Brazil recently elected a new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who was inaugurated on 1 January this year. He served seven terms as a congressman, and during the presidential election someone tried to assassinate him. This incident fuelled support for Bolsonaro, whom many call the “Trump of Brazil”.
He has announced that he will move the Brazilian Embassy in Israel to East Jerusalem and will cancel the recognition of Palestine by Brazil. He also invited Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to his inauguration. Netanyahu stayed five days in the first visit to Brazil by an Israeli prime minister, and he was given the nation's highest decoration for visitors. The minister of foreign affairs of Brazil was supposed to go to Cairo, according to a friend of mine, but the visit was postponed without a reason.
I learned many things from my visit to Brazil. First of all, the people have a strong sense of morality, and they almost exude the ambiance of Egypt in the 1930s. For example, a waiter might ask you how much you will be giving as a tip and then treat you accordingly. Fortunately, even if you do not tip you are treated well. The Brazilians live from day to day and enjoy their lives. They do not think much about tomorrow.
I met a Brazilian businessman called Bruno Pascon who told me he would be open to supporting any project of mine. I asked him to support the education of two Egyptian students in Poland, both studying under Polish academic Karol Myśliwiec. The first was Amr Al-Teibi, who has now received his PhD. Bruno attended his dissertation defence. The second was Nashwa Gaber, who will finish in March.
I think my trip to Brazil was one of the most personally enriching. I also know that the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs capture the imagination of the Brazilian people, as I will explain in a future article. There are other interesting stories concerning my visit and the four lectures I gave, including about the destruction of the Egyptian artefacts in the National Museum of Brazil and my visits to the Brazilian Football Museum and the Rosicrucian Museum.
These will be discussed in my second article on the Pharaohs in Brazil.


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