Did you know that one of the greatest symbols of the United States was originally intended for Egypt? The Statue of Liberty is as American as baseball and doughnuts, but it might not have been. Many people know that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France to the American people, but few know that the statue was first commissioned by Egypt’s ruler, Said Pasha (1854 - 1863).
“Egypt carrying the light of Asia,” as the proposed statue was first known, would have stood at the entrance to Said’s new Suez Canal, if the commission had been completed.
When Said Pasha was removed from power, his successor, Khedive Ismail, found that the statue was too expensive and he cancelled the commission. Said was not to reign over Egypt long enough to see the completion of either his statue or his canal.
The rest is history. Auguste Bartholdi, the creator of the statue, did not wish his project to be abandoned and he suggested to friends over dinner in Paris that the statue could be a gift to America from the people of France.
The subject of a million postcards, the Statue of Liberty now stands on Liberty Island in New York harbour, beckoning its visitors and the whole world to taste freedom.
Construction of the statue began in 1875 and it was completed and presented in Paris to the American people on July 4, 1884.
It was then dismantled and shipped to the United States in three hundred and fifty individual pieces. A public subscription had been opened in New York to pay for the pedestal on which the statue would stand. A poem written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus to help fundraising for the pedestal now stands inscribed at the base of the monument.
As much a summary of American dreams as a description of the statue itself, these lines have became famous: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe freedom.....” In her left hand, the statue holds a tablet on which is written in Roman numerals, “July 4, 1776,” the date of America’s independence from Britain.
When President Grover Cleveland accepted the Statue of Liberty on behalf of the people of the United States at the unveiling ceremony, he said: “We will not forget that liberty here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.”
It might be tempting here to make some modern-day allusion to the Statue of Liberty. We could compare the aspirations of the American people towards liberty and freedom, which it symbolises, with the denial of those very values at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Just this last week, we have seen the charade of men being tried before a military court, having been tortured prior to coming to trial.
However tempting it might be to make such comparisons, that is not our theme here. Instead, let us focus on something much less complicated, which we can apply to our own lives.
The statue was the idea of Said Pasha. It was to have stood at the entrance to the Suez Canal, but circumstances took over.
Said was removed from power and Ismail, his successor, found the statue would have been too expensive. That is what might have happened. Instead of standing in Port Said, the Statue of Liberty now stands in New York harbour, a universal symbol of man’s desire for political freedom and democracy.
Our lives are made up of many “might have beens.” We might have gone to this or that school, but we didn’t. We might have got a different job, we might have married a different person, we might have been run over by a car when we were six years old.
The fact is that we are here now and all the events of our lives have led us to where we are. Wishing over might have beens is not very helpful.
Muslims, for example, in all things say, Alhamdulillah! We should learn to bloom where we are planted and to make the most of what we have and how we are, trusting that Almighty Allah, glorified and exalted be He, will give us the strength we need.
In the coming weeks, Egyptians need to focus on reality, not on what might have been or what might be. The problems facing the nation will not all be solved by one man, nor by a parliament trying to learn democracy. All Egyptians need to face up to the massive problems of poverty and backwardness which is the unfortunate legacy of the former regime.
However, another image of the United States which is just as famous as the Statue of liberty is that of the US dollar banknote. It bears on it an equally famous phrase. In the holy Qur’an we read in Surat Al-Qalam:
He is the Most Beneficent, in Him we believe,
And in Him we put our trust......
Holy Qur’an 67:28
By inclination, we want to be in control of what will happen to us.
We want to be in charge. Circumstances way beyond our control, though, have effects on our lives. History shows us that neither the ruler of Egypt nor the President of the United States can control the destinies of men. On the US dollar bill we read, “In God We Trust.” As Egyptians and as people of faith, let us learn to do just that.