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Egypt Is Still Ancient

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Left: Modern Egypt — Right: Modern Gotham.

When you think of pop-culture depictions of Egypt, what comes to mind?

The Pyramids? Cleopatra? Animal-headed gods? Mummies? The Eye Of Horus?

All of these answers are things from the ancient civilization of Kemet, particularly the New Kingdom, which is considered to be Egypt's Golden Agenote , and overlook its more modern cultures. Egypt has been Islamicized for over 1200 years and before that was a Christian nation with a Hellenistic (Greekified) culture. For reference, England adopted Christianity at roughly the same time as the Arab conquests of Egypt, and that's twice the amount of time that Christianity has existed in the Americas. At present, over ninety percent of the Egyptian populace is some form of Muslim.note  Egypt has undergone numerous radical changes in the last two millennia and was ruled by many foreign powers, yet, in fiction, it seems as none of these influences ever touched the country at all.

Another variation of this would be associating Greece with its ancient roots as if they still worship the pagan Olympian pantheon, if not being merged with Roman culture, in spite of the nation being Orthodox Christian today and having been a part of an Islamic empire for centuries.

Most commonly, Egypt exists in a form of pop-cultural stasis where the wardrobe, themes, or even religion of Ancient Egypt are all anyone knows about it. In a Five-Token Band, or a cast full of National Stereotypes, the character with the gimmick of "Egyptian" has those attributes as their most prominent character trait. In other cases, the character is "modern", but still has no influences from Arab culture (or that of any prominent ethnic group, such as the Copts). Any references to these modern cultures are either severely downplayed or totally non-existent. Characters will usually not even speak Egyptian Arabic (nor Coptic which is actually the modern day descendant of Kemet's language) but pepper their speech with Ancient Egyptian phrases.

This trait can also take place in historical periods. Often in media (especially video games) set during the Ptolemaic or Roman era, Egypt will still be presented as having Ancient Egyptian aesthetics. In actuality, during this period Egypt was mostly Hellenistic in culture and aesthetic, as well as the military.

The only thing that is considered "modern" is the music, either using "The Streets of Cairo" in the case of older media, or with riffs that consist of ouds, qanun zithers, and ney flutes; instruments that wouldn't have existed in ancient Egypt. (Though since nothing is ever straightforward, the ancient Egyptians probably did have a flute rather like the ney, and they also had a form of lyre similar to the modern Egyptian simisimiyya and tanbura, and they seem to have had drums not too far off from the modern Egyptian tabla.)

This trope is NOT when one character in among several Egyptians happens to use an Ancient Egypt gimmick. It's also NOT for when the story actually takes place in Ancient Egypt. It's for when Arabization, Islam, Christianity, the Ottoman and British conquests—or any other one of the many important parts of modern Egypt's cultural identity—is absent from portrayals of the modern population in whole or part, or when the sole "Token Egyptian" character has very few of those influences. If the character is a Fish out of Temporal Water, lack of such influences is a given, so the character must be one of the few (if not the only) "Token Egyptians".

Often linked to Developing Nations Lack Cities.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Im: Great Priest Imhotep: Egypt itself is otherwise modern, and Im is even seriously off-put when he arrives there, and notes how completely unlike it has become to his old home. That being said, there's basically a miniature country within the Egyptian desert that's ruled by the Amen Priesthood, and is very much a hold over from ancient times, albeit with modern technology, and certain modern sensibilities.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders: Zig-Zagged. Mohammed Abdul wears an outfit inspired by Ancient Egypt and at the same time Egypt itself is portrayed as a modern nation.
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Dahal is a modern Egyptian who wears an Arab-style keffiyeh but carries an Egyptian-style crook, is mummified after his death, and his Gundam, the Pharaoh/Mummy Gundam, is themed entirely around ancient Egypt.
  • My Hero Academia: Salaam, the only Egyptian character in the series, is designed based on Ancient Egyptian art and has a quirk called "Papyrus".
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Ancient Egyptians are central to the plot of the original manga and anime series. They and their gods created the monsters and dueling system that would later be converted into the Duel Monsters card game. Thus, all important Egyptian characters like The Pharaoh, Marik, Ishizu, and others are all Fish out of Temporal Water or descended from those figures. When other Egyptians appear, there are few other cultural references to be seen.

    Comic Books 
  • DC Universe:
    • Black Adam is the most famous Egyptian character in DC, and he is an immortal demigod that was originally born in Ancient Egypt before being given the power of Shazam and becoming a modern-day supervillain.
    • Black Adam's queen, Isis, and her brother, Osiris, are modern-day Egyptians obviously themed around the Egyptian gods. Neither their powers nor cultural influences reference anything related to modern Egypt.
    • Hawkman and Hawkgirl were both originally an Ancient Egyptian prince and princess that are reincarnated as the titular hero and heroine in the modern day. Neither hero is actually Egyptian, so the aforementioned royalty are the only form of Egyptian culture present, modern or otherwise.
    • Doctor Fate is an Ancient Egyptian sorceror named Nabu that inhabits the helmet of modern American protagonist Kent Nelson. Neither Nelson nor Nabu have anything to do with modern Egypt. (They later introduced the Legacy Character Khalid Nassour, an Egyptian-American Muslim who inherited the helmet.)
    • Robin (1993): Scarab is the most technologically advanced of Robin's foes and the only character noted to be from Egypt, but she seems a direct descendant of ancient Egypt skipping all the cultural influences of Arabic and Christian influence in Egypt. This is explored in Red Robin where it's revealed she's part of a group of assassins who trace their roots to ancient Egypt and intentionally behave this way.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • Apocalypse is En Sabah Nur, an ancient Egyptian that gained power from the cosmic Celestials and thus became an immortal, despotic supervillain in the modern day.
    • Ahmet Abdol, the Living Monolith, is a modern-day Egyptian professor of Egyptology who gained immense power and thus changed his appearance to resemble that of an Egyptian pharaoh in the modern day. Whether or not Abdol shared any cultural elements of modern Egypt before his transformation is never explored.
  • Luxor City in Judge Dredd: The Book of the Dead is a Mega City shaped like a pyramid. The Judges have a helmet based on the kepresh (the Pharaoh's war crown) and a badge showing Anubis. They also seem to be named after Pharaohs, worship the old gods, and still go in for mummification. (Admittedly, everywhere in Dredd's world is a Theme Park Version of what it was like before the Atomic Wars, but they usually base it around the 19th or 20th century.)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Pretty much the issue with the The Mummy (1932), most of what is shown about Egypt has more in common with the European idea of Ancient or at least Ptolomaic Egypt than modern-day Egypt. In fact, Imhotep's Love Interest and modern reincarnation of his lover is recognized as having "Egyptian blood" because of her look (her mother was Egyptian), the issue is that she looks much more like Cleopatra than an Arab woman.
  • Egypt is not portrayed this way in OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, but the main character, as is befitting his Global Ignorance and his Innocently Insensitive nature, seems to think it is, and has to be dissuaded by Larmina. Among other things, he thinks Egypt is still the land of Pharaohs, and that the Suez Canal was built by Egypt in ancient times (which is wrong on both counts).
  • In X-Men: Apocalypse: The salient trait of modern-day Egypt is that it has the Time Abyss Nepharious Pharaoh En Sabah Nur in suspended animation deep underground; when he wakes and starts to reclaim his power base, he disintegrates Cairo to build a Futuristic Pyramid base for his new regime.

  • Discworld: A Fantasy Counterpart Culture example is present in the novel Pyramids. Djelibeybi at first seems to have experienced negligible change over the past millennium, thanks to an immortal high priest. But it is later shown that they've had linguistic shifts when a bunch of mummies wake up and the various gods worshipped over the centuries start wrestling over the sun.
  • Rick Riordan's mythology novels all play this straight. Despite focusing on mythology of a specific place and being set in the modern day, they never delve into what kind of society the culture is now like:
    • The Camp Half-Blood Series handwaves this by saying that the classical world moves alongside the center of Western civilization (which currently is the USA), implying that Greece is only a birthplace and not the center of the universe. The Olympians stay classical and don't change alongside Greece. In fact, Greece doesn't make an appearance until the fifth book of the second series and is treated like any other country. The fact that it is Orthodox Christian (or just plain Christian) is never mentioned.
    • The Kane Chronicles: The series never touches society and politics of post-Pharaonic Egypt. One Egyptian character has an obviously Arabic name (Zia Rashid) and a backstory about the Pharaoh of the House of Life position is that it remains vacant since Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in the 3th century BCE, but that's it.
    • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard downplays this. It does not detail the Christianization of Scandinavia and its aftermath, focusing everything on the Norse mythology and the Vikings. However, it does mention about the Kievan Rus', a Slavic polity founded by a Nordic ruling class in the 9th century CE. One major character, Samirah al Abbas, is a descendant of Ahmad ibn Fadlan, an Arab who traveled to and wrote extensively about the Kievan Rus'. Though bizarrely enough, Jesus is implied to exist in the The Sword of Summer, where it is revealed that he ditched out of a duel that Thor challenged him to.
  • Our Dumb World, in mockery of this, describes Egypt as mainly a set of museum exhibits scattered around the world, giving only token acknowledgement to the modern-day Egyptian state.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Discussed in American Gods: When Egyptian-American Immigrant and devoted Muslim Mrs. Fadhil dies she expresses some concern when Anubis comes to guide her to the afterlife, rather than some Muslim entity. He explains that when she was a child "she listened to their stories and kept them alive in her heart". Anubis, a starving Psychopomp due to Gods Need Prayer Badly couldn't exactly wait for a devoted believer in Ra or Isis to die.
  • Inverted by The Jews Are Coming: Almost all Ancient Egyptian characters speak in Arab Beoble Talk, and the one exception — an Austrian-accented dream interpreter who claims Pharaoh's "seven thin cows eating seven fat ones" dream stands for a desire to kill his father and sleep with his mother — is stated to come from Sharm El Sheikh, a modern Egyptian city in Sinai which did not exist in ancient times.
  • Moon Knight: The show deliberately goes out of its way to avert this - while Egyptian Mythology plays a huge part in the series, one of the show director's stated intentions for the show was to counteract this trope's narrative by accurately portraying Egypt as modernized. Despite most of the Egyptian scenes taking place in or around ancient ruins, it is made abundantly clear that this is a modern nation instead of just a by-way for adventurers. Its portrayal of Cairo in particular was praised for being accurate and non-stereotypical.

  • The Twilight Histories episode “City of Pyramids” takes place in a world where Egypt was the only civilization to survive the Bronze Age Collapse. 12,000 years later, not much has changed. Well, apart from the new ice age and all that.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Ophidian And Amasis, the Chikara Tag Team known as The Osirian Portal, have ignored pretty much everything that has come into Egypt after it was conquered by Persia, with the exceptions of break dancing and funk.
  • Subverted with Sahara Se7en, as she can "only" trace her family lineage back to Alexandria, which is why she says "Egypt" instead Kemet, and doesn't bother with much New Kingdom imagery.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Justified in TORG, since the High Lord ruling over the Nile Empire, is superimposing his 1930's pulp-style world over much of northeastern Africa, so of course ancient Egyptian stylings are everywhere, alonside other pulp adventure tropes.

  • The Australian Industrial Metal band Sirus zig-zags this trope in its two albums, Apocrypha and The Book of Gates. Both albums feature songs that combine Cyberpunk themes with Ancient Egyptian symbols and mythology. But many songs also reference modern-day Egyptian locales such as Cairo's Tahrir Square. They also reference recent events such as the Arab Spring protests and the war in Syria. Similarly, the album cover of Apocrypha prominently displays the pyramids but fronts them with the urban sprawl of modern-day Cairo.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed Origins averts this trope in a unique way. Set in Egypt during the time of Cleopatra VII and Julius Caesar, a point that's emphasized early on is that what we think of as "ancient Egypt" was ancient even to the Romans. When the game takes place, large parts of Egypt are culturally Greek more than anything, the region having been conquered centuries ago by Alexander the Great, with traditional "Egyptian culture" only hanging on in remote rural backwaters.
  • Darkstalkers: Justified because the story is based on classic monsters and creatures from folklore and mythology. The Egyptian character, Anakaris, is thus an Egyptian mummy.
  • Empire Earth II: Territory and city names for the Egypt civilization come from all over Egyptian history (including Ancient Egypt, Alexander the Great's conquest, and post-Islam) no matter the time period, so it's possible to have Al Qahirah (Cairo) and Al-Iskandariyah (Alexandria) in 2000 BC or Bubastis and Abu Simbel in 2000 AD. There is no mention of Islam either way, and their buildings share models with the other Middle Eastern civilizations (Turkey and Babylon), so no Build Like an Egyptian except in the campaign.
  • Expeditions: Rome is set in the years of the late Roman Republic, Egyptian soldiers wield khopeshes, and the visual aesthetics of Egypt still resemble the New Kingdom (though Cleopatra and Ptolemy's names are at least Greek).
  • League of Legends: Shurima goes all over the place with this, but prominently features an overriding ancient-Egyptian aesthetic based on its ancient glory days before its empire's collapse. Contemporary Shurima exists as low-tech, but mostly secular nomadic civilization eking out life in the Thirsty Desert that was once the empire, with more developed cities and towns only having faint aesthetic nostalgia for its past (in part because some of them have been since colonized by other neighboring nations, such as Noxus). Meanwhile, with the return of the newly-resurrected Azir — the last ruler of the first Shuriman empire — he seems to be deliberately trying to shape the country to fit his vision of how it used to be; it's most obvious in Legends of Runeterra where the cards that draw from primarily ancient Egyptian aesthetics are all associated with Azir in some way, while other characters (such as Taliyah) draw from other traditions.
  • Overwatch: The Amari family are a mother-daughter pair from Egypt, with their home stage called "the Temple of Anubis", showcasing an Egyptian temple 20 Minutes into the Future (albeit, it's demonstrated to only be one location in Egypt—but still the main one for the game). The first character introduced, Pharah, has absolutely no contemporary Egyptian references about her whatsoever. Even her voice actress is an American doing a very non-Arabic accent, and her alternate costumes are very heavily based on either Egyptian Mythology or northwestern First Nations culture (the latter being the other side of her parentage). The second character, Ana, is voiced by a real-life Egyptian woman that speaks Arabic and most of her outfits include a hijab, implying she is Muslim.
  • Rome: Total War: This trope is played with, in a much earlier fashion than normal. A common point of criticism is that, despite being set in the time of the rise of the Roman Empire, the Egyptian models are still shown to be based on New Kingdom Egypt, looking like they did over a thousand years before the time of the game. When Total War: Rome II came out, it fixed this, as Egyptians now look markedly more Hellenistic.
  • The Secret World: The Valley of the Sun God arc sees ancient Egypt interacting with modern Egypt. The Big Bad is the Nepharious Pharaoh Akhenaten who has been freed from his prison and sets out to take over Egypt and restore worship of the sun god Aten, this being a universe in which sun worship leads to very, very bad things. The first part of the Egypt area, the Scorched Desert, is based on modern Egypt with a hotel, a date farm, a contemporary desert village, ancient ruins that now host tourist traps and archaeological digs, and La Résistance being a group of modern-looking Middle Eastern militants, combined with hordes of mummies, scorpions, and other creatures of Egyptian legend running around as mooks. The second area, the City of the Sun God, jumps fully into this trope, having been isolated from the outside world behind an unnatural sandstorm for millennia with only a few traces of modernity in sight.
  • The Sims 3: Zigzagged on the World Adventures expansion pack, where your sim(s) travel to Al Simhara, a world based on Egypt, where you could visit the Pyramids, discover tombs, acquire relics, get cursed by mummies, and buy items for your home that are ancient Egyptian-themed. The modern elements include residents that have Arabic names, music played with Middle Eastern instruments, food such as falafel and shawarma, the hidden skill of snake charming, and caftans and fezzes.
  • Skullgirls: The character Eliza is a modern diva who, according to Word of God, is from an unspecified Fantasy Counterpart Culture similar to Egypt. She is bonded to a Parasite organism named Sekhmet, named for the Egyptian god, and it's hinted that she also uses the alias Neferu, which means "Beauty" in the Kemet language and was the name of several Eqyptian queens. She even has a deep fondness for cats, much like the Ancient Egyptian reverence for them.
  • Slipstream 5000: One of the drivers is Egyptian, and she uses ancient Egyptian symbolism — her racing name is Isis ("the Crisis"), she wears an ankh pendant, and so forth. However, this could just be a branding gimmick employed by the character (who, like other racers, is an international celebrity).
  • Street Fighter:
    • Street Fighter III: In Second Impact, the home stages of the brothers Urien and Gill are in Egypt, with the former's located in the desert surrounded by Ancient Egyptian ruins and a sphinx, and the latter's located inside an ancient tomb or pyramid.
    • Street Fighter V: The franchise's first Egyptian character, Menat, is heavily based on Egyptian Mythology. Most of her abilities and moves are named after Egyptian deities, and all of her costumes are ancient Egyptian-themed (she’s even dressed as a very sexy mummy in one of her alts.) In the Street Fighter series’ contemporary setting, Menat displays no modern-Egyptian attributes at all.
  • Super Mario Odyssey: The primary theme of the Sand Kingdom, but in a first departure from Mario deserts' ubiquitous Egyptian theming. Here, the most Egyptian feature is a Sphynx, but the rest is based on Mesoamerican history, with the pyramid being a step pyramid common to Mayan, Aztec, and other societies, and the boss being based on Olmec statues.
  • Tekken is guilty of this with its first Egyptian character, Zafina. Sure, her nationality is officially unknown, but she lives close to Azazel's Temple, which is explicitly located in Egypt. Sure, she has an Arabic name, but her association with modern Egyptian culture stops there. Her attire is very Ancient Egyptian (and extremely Stripperiffic, when doing so in predominantly conservative Egypt would be a bad idea) and her backstory concerns her being the descendant of ancient warriors who monitor Azazel's Temple since pharaonic times. Her moves are patterned after ancient Middle Eastern beings and is inspired by Kalaripayattu, of all things. And she speaks English with a strange, but certainly not Arabic, accent.
  • Virtue's Last Reward: Alice is part Egyptian and wears Ancient Egyptian themed costume with a large aquamarine gem that is meant to be a scarab.

    Web Original 
  • Invoked in Vivere Militare Est, an Alternate History story in which the revelation of the supernatural during the closing days of World War II leads to a Cold War in which the world's major powers weaponize the supernatural. The political chaos of Egypt in The '60s leads to the rise of a paranormal figure calling himself Akhenaten and claiming to be Aten made flesh (though Word of God is that he's something else entirely), telling his followers that the sorry state of modern Egypt is because the forces of isfet (chaos) have overtaken the forces of ma'at (order) and that it must return to the old ways. Upon taking over Egypt, he restores its ancient name Kemet, suppresses Islam in order to proclaim himself a new god-pharaoh, and launches wars of conquest against Kemet's neighbors; while Israel (of course) successfully fights back by nuking Akhenaten's army of revenants, and it's implied that while Prester John's intervention managed to save Sudan from Akhenaten's clutches, Libya, Chad, and Niger all fall. Kemet, as the world's most powerful occult state, becomes an inspiration to other occult groups, with Nizam-i Zahhak in Iran imitating Akhenaten's anti-Islamic rhetoric in its calls for the restoration of Zoroastrianism (albeit worshiping the demonic figure Zahhak instead of the benevolent god Ahura Mazda) and Word Of God mentioning a neo-Incan insurgency in Peru trying to do the same.

    Western Animation 
  • Alfred J. Kwak: Alfred visits modern-day Egypt to find a cure for his friend, a professor of Egyptology, inside one of the Pyramids. It turns out that the ancient Egyptians have preserved their culture into the present day and are maintaining The Masquerade.
  • In the episode "Sphinx for the Memories" of DuckTales (1987), the Duck family arrives to Egypt and although the urban centers more or less look Middle Eastern, Donald is kidnapped and taken to a community in the desert that is basically Ancient Egypt in everything up to having Pharaohs and mummies (though they are noted as being isolationist until the end of the episode).