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Egyptians shrug at the year 2000

Ben Wedeman

By Ben Wedeman
CNN Cairo Bureau Chief

December 30, 1999
Web posted at: 10:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT)

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

musings at the millennium

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- The West is preparing for a massive worldwide celebration to mark the beginning of the third millennium after Jesus' birth.

Here in Egypt, CNN plans extensive live coverage from the pyramids in Giza.

But time is relative.

I recently climbed the biggest pyramid in Giza, the Great Pyramid of Cheops. It was no easy feat, especially for someone with a fear of heights. But the view from the top lends perspective less available on the ground.

Egyptologists say the pyramids were built several thousand years ago. Their sheer age somehow dwarfs the current celebrations.

And anyway, for Egypt's Muslim majority, this is the year 1420 in the Hejira calendar, which began when the prophet Mohammed and his followers fled Mecca to take refuge in the more tolerant city of Medina.

For Egypt's Coptic minority, this is the year 1716. Their calendar began with a massacre of Christians when Egypt was under Roman rule. Egyptian farmers, irrespective of their religious affiliation, also follow the Coptic calendar because it's more in tune with the seasons in Egypt.

And for the millions of impoverished Egyptians -- Muslim and Christian -- who must struggle just to get by, the millennium will be a non-event of monumental proportions.

more musings

The festivities at the pyramids were planned in coordination with Westerners, with a goal of attracting Western tourists.

The country of Egypt does use the Gregorian calendar. But when the date flips over, most people in this time-worn land may well greet the year 2000 with a collective shrug.

CNN Interactive: Analysis

CNN Interactive: World

CNN Interactive: Travel

Egypt's Ministry of Tourism
Egypt Information Highway
   • Egypt Tourism Net
Egypt State Information Service
U.S. Library of Congress: Country Studies -- Egypt

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