Egyptian Origins of the Statue of Liberty

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Arabs, Egypt, Middle East Views: 16858

In a world where "clash" often defines the relationship between East and West. Few realize that America and the Middle East have also enjoyed a history of being an inspiration for each other.

Michael B. Oren, in the following article excerpt from his book entitled Power, Faith and Fantasy reveals a piece of history that highlights the origins of the Statue of Liberty.

Oren tells us that French visionary named Frederic Auguste Bartholdi originally envisioned the lady of liberty as a Middle Eastern peasant women bearing a torch of light and freedom. While in Egypt visiting the great Luxor pyramids, and attending the Suez Canal opening ceremony, he planned to create a statue that would stand as a beacon of hope and freedom for the people of the Middle East. 

In 1886 the statue would be erected on Ellis Island, as a monument that still challenges history to be a symbol of enlightenment for the world and a beacon of the right of passage for people towards freedom, hope and equality.

Lady Liberty
"Egypt Bringing Light to Asia," the original Lady Liberty intended by its creator, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, to grace the entrance to the Suez Canal.

Enlightening the World

The project was the brainchild of a man whom Stone had once met in Egypt, an Alsatian sculptor ten years his junior, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. The idea originated in Bartholdi's excursion to Luxor and his fascination with the area's ancient statues. "Granite beings of imperturbable majesty," the awestruck artist called them, remarking how their eyes appeared to be "fixed on the limitless future." At that moment, the handsome, dark-haired Bartholdi resolved to replicate that magnificence and so ensure his own immortality. Inspiration again graced Bartholdi at the lavish opening ceremony of the Suez Canal. He would carve the likeness of an Egyptian peasant woman holding aloft a torch of freedom. The monument, twice as high as the Sphinx, would guard the waterway's entrance and perhaps double as a lighthouse. Its name would be Egypt (or Progress) Bringing Light to Asia.

Bartholdi spent two years making sketches and terra-cotta models of his concept and persuading Khedive Isma'il to finance the construction. By 1871, however, Isma'il was bankrupt and incapable of servicing his debts, much less investing in statuary. Distraught, Bartholdi sought solace in a cruise to the United States. While sailing into New York harbor, he passed the egg-shaped Bedloe's Island and suddenly envisaged a new location for his icon-and a new meaning. Years of back-and-forth negotiations produced an arrangement in which the Americans would pay for the pedestal and France for the statue itself, to be constructed by Gustave Eiffel. There remained only to find a chief American engineer for the undertaking. Bartholdi remembered Stone.

The general, who had been imprisoned on Bedloe's Island early in the Civil War, knew the area well. He acquired the assistance of James Morgan and Samuel Lockett, both veterans of the Egyptian service, and began erecting the eighty-nine-foot-high pedestal and assembling the 350 pieces of Eiffel's copper colossus. Though originally scheduled to coincide with the centennial of America's independence, the dedication of the memorial did not occur until a decade later, in October 1886, a year before Stone's death.

The thousands of spectators who listened as President Grover Cleveland pledged "not [to] forget that liberty here made her home" gazed up at a creation that bore little resemblance to the one Bartholdi had visualized for Egypt. The Muslim peasant had been replaced by an idealized Western woman and the name of the piece changed from Bringing Light to Asia to Liberty Enlightening the World. 

Only the torch remained, unextinguished. Over the next forty years, "Lady Liberty" would provide millions of immigrants with their first glimpse of America, kindling their hopes for better lives and beckoning them with the possibility of freedom. For Egyptians, though, as for the many Middle Eastern peoples destined to come under foreign rule during that period, there would be no such illustrious symbols. They, unlike these new Americans, would have few prospects for advancement and none whatsoever of independence. "When will you turn your face toward the East, 0 Liberty?" asked Ameen Rihani, an Arab American poet later to play a dynamic role in his country's relations with the Middle East. "Shall the future never see a statue of freedom near the Pyramids?" 9

Michael B. Oren is a Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based research facility, where he specializes in the diplomatic and military history of the Middle East. He has written extensively for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic, of which he is a contributing editor, and has been interviewed on CNN, Fox, The Charlie Rose Show, The Daily Show, and Today. He is the CBS Middle East expert.

Dr. Oren is the author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, published in 2002 by Oxford University Press. The book was a New York Times bestseller, and won the Los Angeles Times' History Book of the Year prize and the National Jewish Book Award. His most recent book, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present, was eight weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and won a Council for the Humanities Book Award.

9. Cox, "Arabi and Stone," p. 158 ("Egypt had become"). Bernard A. Weisberger, Statue of Liberty: The First Hundred Years (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985), pp. 22-23 ("Granite beings"), 24-25, 33. Willadene Price, Bartholdi and the Statue of Liberty (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1959), pp. 27-29, 42-45, 63-65, 119-20. Marvin Trachtenberg, The Statue of Liberty (New York: Penguin, 1986), pp. 46, 53-54, 57. Grabill, Protestant Diplomacy, p. 56 ("When will you turn").


  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Arabs, Egypt, Middle East
Views: 16858

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.