Face-to-face encounter with the mummy of all treaties

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR was given the rare privilege yesterday of seeing the mummified and wizened face of King Rameses II, who signed the first treaty in history, writes Donald Macintyre in Alexandria.

The treaty, signed in 1270 BC by King Rameses, was rather simpler than the one the Prime Minister agreed in Maastricht 3,262 years later. It secured peace with the Hittites of Asia Minor.

The opening of King Rameses's coffin was the highlight of a tour of the Cairo Museum of Antiquities which Mr Major had asked for specially on the eve of his trip to international ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of El Alamein which will be followed by a service in the desert commemorating the 20,000 allied troops who died in the battle.

At a reception for veterans at the British consulate in Alexandria last night, Mr Major, who was not born when the battle took place, said: 'Had it not been for the people who fought and won at Alamein I would not be standing here tonight as Prime Minister of a free country and speaking to all of you. That is how I feel about that battle.'

Mr Major will attend two ceremonies at El Alamein today, the first an international one at which an address will be given in German by the German chief military chaplain. A wreath will be laid by a German soldier 'representing all nations'.

At least 2,000 allied veterans of the battle, as well as Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, son of the victor, are expected to attend the official Commonwealth ceremony. Mr Major will read a lesson from Revelations, Chapter 21: 'And God will wipe away tears from their eyes.'

The ceremonies will commemorate the battle of which Churchill said: 'Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.' Yesterday, the most sinister discovery afforded by the trip to the museum was made by Churchill's grandson Winston who, though fresh from his a successful Parliamentary battle with Mr Major over pit closures, is one of a group of MPs accompanying him. As they toured the relics of Tutankhamun's tomb, Mr Churchill learned a curious fact about the car accident which put his father, Randolph, in hospital for seven weeks in Cairo in 1942.

Mr Churchill was told by Sir Carol Mather, former MP for Esher and a veteran of the Western Desert campaign, that his father was returning from the Benghazi raid in an Army vehicle driven by David Stirling, who later formed the SAS.

A journalist killed in the same accident had been the last survivor of those who accompanied Lord Carnarvon's expedition to the Tomb of Tutankhamun. The story is the latest evidence of the 'curse of Tutankhamun', which has it that all those who witnessed the tomb's opening met violent or unnatural deaths.

Mohammed Saleh, the museum's director, told Mr Major of a text in one of the tombs about the tolerance of Ra, the sun god. Ra's vengeful daughter Hatour went down to earth and massacred people for failing to pray to her father. Troubled by the slaughter, Ra suggested she drink her victims' blood. He substituted a mixture of wine and ochre so that his daughter fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke she had forgotten about her destructive mission.

Mr Major listened fascinated. But if he was wishing that something similarly benign could happen to the daughter of a Grantham grocer, he did not let on.