Egypt’s antiquities fall victim to political chaos

Date:

Share post:

The century-old home of Egypt’s mummies and King Tutankhamun’s treasures is trying to make the best out of the worst times of political turmoil. But the Egyptian Museum is taking a hammering on multiple levels, from riots on its doorstep to funding so meager it can’t keep up paper clip supplies for its staff.

Egypt’s antiquities fall victim to political chaos
Ancient Egyptian antiquities are seen on display in the Egyptian Museum
[Credit: Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press]

The museum, a treasure trove of pharaonic antiquities, has long been one of the centerpieces of tourism to Egypt. But the constant instability since the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak has dried up tourism to the country, slashing a key source of revenue. Moreover, political backbiting and attempts to stop corruption have had a knock-on effect of bringing a de facto ban on sending antiquities on tours to museums abroad, cutting off what was once a major source of funding for the state.

The repeated eruption of protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where the museum is located, has also scared away visitors. Over the summer there were the giant rallies that led to the July 3 military coup ousting Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. In recent weeks, protesters have returned to Tahrir, now venting their anger at the military-backed government that took its place.

“Tahrir Square is considered as the birthplace of the Egyptian revolution, and the museum is like a thermometer. It gets affected by the political situation at the square,” said Sayed Amer, the director of the Egyptian Museum, in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Egypt’s antiquities fall victim to political chaos
The solid gold mask of King Tutankhamun is seen in its glass case, as tourists
visit the Egyptian museum [Credit: Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press]

The antiquities minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, tried to put a brave face, saying at least the museum remains open.

“Sometimes the square is closed but we keep the museum open,” he said.

On recent visits to the museum by the AP, there were only a handful of foreign visitors, and none at its most prized exhibits of mummies and King Tut’s treasures.

The museum is trying to make the most of the dry times. It has launched an extensive renovation for the palatial, 111-year-old salmon-colored building. The décor will get a makeover, and lighting and security systems will be upgraded in an overhaul, in cooperation with Germany, costing more than $4.3 million.

Egypt’s antiquities fall victim to political chaos
 A security worker guards antiquities inside the Egyptian Museum
[Credit: Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press]

Plans are also being drawn up to demolish the neighboring former headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, which was burned during the uprising, to create an open-air, Nile-side exhibition garden for the museum.

King Tut’s treasures will be moved to a new Grand Egyptian Museum under construction near the Giza pyramids, due to be finished in 2015. The plan reflects in part the embarrassment of riches Egypt enjoys in pharaonic artifacts: The Egyptian Museum in Tahrir is so overflowing with objects that more than half its collection sits in storage in its basement — in less than ideal conditions — meaning there’s plenty to draw visitors to both museums.

Amid the budget crunch, staffers are trying to find other sources of revenue.

Egypt’s antiquities fall victim to political chaos
Egyptian security forces stand guard in front of the Egyptian museum
[Credit: Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press]

Yasmin El-Shazly, the head of the Documentation Department that tracks the museum’s 200,000 items, set up a fundraising mechanism to bring in donations for the museum independently of the government.

Donations collected by the Friends of the Egyptian Museum group will help fund academic research in the museum, raise awareness of its projects and empower Egyptian experts and museum’s staff, who have gone without salaries for months.

“We don’t even have the money to buy office supplies like paper clips and pens, and pay for computer maintenance,” El-Shazly said. “It’s always been difficult because the money generated by the museum went to the government and rarely came back to us. But now, with no money coming from tourism, it’s worse than ever.”

Egypt’s antiquities fall victim to political chaos
A workers cleans a glass case in the Egyptian Museum
[Credit: Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press]

Ibrahim said the ministry’s revenues, including the entrance fees from tourist sites, fell from 111 million Egyptian pounds ($16 million) in October 2010 to 7 million Egyptian pounds ($1.14 million) in October 2013.

Even more detrimental, few if any of Egypt’s precious antiquities are touring abroad.

A visit in October by a team of experts from the British Museum resulted only in words of hope for a renewed cooperation in the future and some training opportunities for Egyptian staff in London. Japanese exhibition organizers interested in a tour exhibit for objects from the King Tut collection left Egypt with no deal.

Such foreign tours were a lucrative revenue source, but virtually ground to a halt after Egypt’s chief archaeologist during Mubarak’s rule, Zahi Hawass, was forced to resign in 2011 on corruption allegations. Hawass denied the allegations, and he was not charged.

Egypt’s antiquities fall victim to political chaos
An ancient Egyptian statue is seen on display inside its glass case in the
Egyptian museum [Credit: Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press]

Last year, Morsi’s government cut short a Cleopatra-themed exhibit on tour in the United States after a Cairo court ruled that some of its pieces are too unique to allow out of the country and had to return immediately.

Antiquities officials are now reluctant to sign any deals with exhibitions abroad for fear of being accused of corruption — or worse, of being unpatriotic for sending away Egypt’s patrimony, amid the nationalist wave sweeping Egypt following the July coup.

The Cleopatra exhibit toured four U.S. cities, starting with Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute in June 2010. It included artifacts ranging from tiny gold coins to a pair of towering eight-ton granite figures, raised by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio from submerged ruins off the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

Egypt’s antiquities fall victim to political chaos
Visitors look at antiquities inside the Egyptian Museum
[Credit: Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press]

Ordering it home lost Egypt millions of dollars, said Lotfi Gazy, the museum’s antiquities affairs director.

Egypt was earning $450,000 dollars from each city the exhibit traveled to, plus $1 million for every 100,000 visitors and a 10 percent cut from merchandizing sales, Gazy said.

“It was a disaster for us,” Gazy said. No new contract has been signed since then.

Author: Barbara Surk | Source: The Associated Press [December 04, 2013]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Ancient clams yield new information about greenhouse effect on climate

Ancient fossilized clams that lived off the coast of Antarctica some 50 million years ago have a story...

Climate change breaches symbolic thresholds, fuels extreme weather

The global average surface temperature in 2015 is likely to be the warmest on record and to reach...

Northampton town centre dig reveals rare medieval linen

Fragments of rare medieval linen and serpentine marble have been discovered by archaeologists at a dig in Northampton...

Ancient Caria: In the garden of the sun

They were one of the first to fit handles onto their shields and a crest and tassel to...

Luxury noble vehicles unearthed in Henan

Three vehicles have been earthed from the Zheng State No 3 pit in Xinzheng city, Central China's Henan...

Atom probe assisted dating of oldest piece of Earth

It's a scientific axiom: big claims require extra-solid evidence. So there were skeptics in 2001 when University of...

The consequences of the scarcity of “knowledgeable elders”

Small changes in a population may lead to dramatic consequences, like the disappearance of the migratory route of...

Scientists teach largest dinosaurs to walk

For the first time scientists have learnt how the largest four-legged dinosaurs got from A to B. The...