the pyramids of Giza, the last remaining wonder of the ancient
world, the new millennium was ushered in with an technological
extravaganza of sound and laser light composed and choreographed
by the French musician, Jean Michel Jarre.
The Pyramids Plateau
was transformed for the event, with new roads, a parking area
for 4,000 buses, as well as exclusive tents for those paying as
much as £250 for the night’s entertainment. "It damages the site
and it makes Walt Disney of a necropolis," complained one Egyptologist.
Egypt was the only
Muslim country to lay on celebrations on such a scale; the government,
which spent £5.9m on the project, saw the millennium as a chance
to use the pyramids to promote Egypt abroad. Tourism here went
into a nosedive after Islamic militants massacred nearly 60 tourists
outside a temple in Luxor in 1997.
This time, the authorities
were taking no chances. Soldiers were out in massive force to
guard an estimated 50,000 guests. Metal detectors were installed
in the desert, and for days in advance hundreds of military police
and soldiers practised security drills.
Controversy has surrounded
the celebrations, partly because they fell in the Muslim holy
month of Ramadan. Many Egyptians felt they were an extravagance
in a country where only a tiny minority could afford the price
of the cheapest, £10, ticket. Until last year, few Egyptians had
heard of Jean Michel Jarre. "It is a provocation, an attempt to
Westernise the Islamic identity of the Egyptian people," said
Islamist Mamdouh Ismail.
Sensitive to the criticisms,
Jean Michel Jarre decided to incorporate the Muslim call to prayer
into his performance. The government also banned the sale of alcohol,
although it is usually served to foreigners during Ramadan. Meanwhile,
a storm of protest forced the authorities to cancel the planned
climax of the event - the lowering of a golden cap onto the biggest
of the pyramids at midnight. Some MPs and archaeologists argued
it could damage the pyramid.