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Wednesday, September 29, 1999 Published at 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK


World: Middle East

Egypt's golden millennium

Cheops will have a gilded tip to start the third millennium

Egypt has unveiled plans to usher in the new millennium with a 12 hour extravaganza at the foot of the Pyramids which is being described as the biggest cultural celebration ever to be held in the country.

The event will feature an electronic opera especially composed by the French musician Jean Michel Jarre, with laser lights, fireworks, dances, and blend of oriental and western music.

At the stroke of midnight local time a golden pyramid about 9m (30 feet) high will be placed on the missing peak of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, flooding the surrounding area with golden rays to signal the birth of the first day of 2000.

Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny said it would be an historic and unprecedented event which would boost Egypt's image abroad.

The three-act performance - with dramatic high points at sunset, midnight and sunrise - will follow the theme of "Twelve Dreams of the Sun," central to ancient Egyptian mythology.


The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Cairo reports on the plans for an "historic and unprecedented" event
Mr Jarre said his special effects would give the illusion that the Pyramids were the "doors through which the sun passes".

The musician has organized outdoor spectaculars in Houston, Beijing, London, Paris and Moscow, but he said this would be his biggest project ever.

Special government committees have been set up to plan the event and make sure the Pyramids are not damaged.

Security

Officials are concerned about security as Egypt still struggles to recover from the massacre by Islamic militants of 58 foreign tourists in Luxor nearly two years ago.

Correspondents say the government badly wants to present a new image of a country which, according to its publicity, is entering its seventh millennium.

The minister said that 60 countries have bought television rights.

A live audience of around 50,000 people is expected to attend the event on the desert plateau of Giza, part of greater Cairo, with the price of tickets ranging from $150 to $400.

"Wasting money"

But critics have accused the government of wasting money and argue that the millennium is meaningless to the majority of what is a predominantly Muslim country.

The culture minister has dismissed the charges. He said Islam was not adverse to beauty and that the money involved, $9.5m, would not solve Egypt's problems, and was "much lower" than the artistic value of the show.

Out of respect for Ramadan, Mr Jarre said the opera will start in a low-key way at sundown, when Moslems conduct prayers before breaking the day-time fast.

He said there would be discreet lighting, and music inspired by mystical Muslim sufi chants.



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