Al-Ahram Weekly Online   16 - 22 December 2004
Issue No. 721
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

More than Tut t-shirts

Egypt wants to make more money off its cultural heritage

More than Tut t-shirts

Although Egypt possesses a third of the world's antiquities, it does not have enough money to pay for the cost of restoring and conserving this tremendous heritage, not to mention exploring new sites, or building museums to host the newly discovered artefacts. Nevine El-Aref looks at the new company that is supposed to help do just that.

The government has decided to adopt a new approach to dealing with cultural heritage that it hopes will generate the revenue necessary to carry out this important work. That is the crux of the Culture Ministry-affiliated holding company currently being formed based on a ministerial decree issued by former Prime Minister Atef Ebeid in July 2004.

The company is designed to generate revenue for the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) to enable it to better invest in archaeological excavation and restoration, promoting archaeological and cultural awareness among the public, diversifying archaeology-related professional services, and producing high-quality commercial products.

SCA Secretary-General Zahi Hawass described the project as "an overwhelming revolution to develop Egypt's archaeological sites". SCA policy is too rigid and doesn't facilitate revenue augmentation, Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly. "To change the status of Egyptian archaeology, we must be more practical and efficient." Hawass said the SCA has long suffered from "a lack of liquidity, and modestly-paid personnel". He predicted that the new company would help the authority establish "a self sufficient financial policy which will give us the upper hand in continuing our restoration, conservation and excavation projects."

The SCA's commercial consultant, Noura Ebeid, said the new holding company was "a concrete step towards properly operating Egypt's archaeological sites, and ensuring the best use of its monumental assets in a way that would generate more revenue."

The SCA owns 51 per cent of the new entity. Although the rest of the owners -- all public sector companies -- have not been announced, SCA insiders claim that they include Al-Ahram Organisation, the Son Et Lumiere Company, and Misr Travel.

The ministerial decree stipulates that the holding company will control a dozen subsidiary entities, each of which will be responsible for a different aspect of the overall scheme. Some of these subsidiary companies will be in charge of cleaning, maintaining and securing museums and archaeological sites, while others will supervise the restoration projects, manage the sites, and act as professional contractors on construction projects related to building new museums, administrative structures or visitor centres. A third group of companies will provide technical, scientific and museum-related consulting to archaeological institutes in Egypt and abroad. A publishing company will be busy producing brochures, booklets, catalogues, CDs and archaeological and art books.

The highest profile subsidiary will probably be the one devoted to the production and merchandising of Pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic replicas, as well as antiquities-inspired jewellery. These products, which are identical copies of the actual artefacts, will have official SCA certification, and will be the only ones allowed on the market. Other manufacturers will have to get the authority's permission before producing replicas. "As long as they are not producing identical copies of the genuine items," Ebeid said, " the Khan Al-Khalili bazaars that make and sell replicas can continue to do so."

SCA Legal Consultant Ashraf El-Ashmawi predicted that these efforts would not only "increase the SCA's revenue, since it will be the exclusive distributor and seller, but it will also help limit illicit antiquities trafficking and debates over the authenticity of objects."

The holding company also aims to create a photo bank that would then sell the rights to images. Professional photography inside museums and archaeological sites will be completely prohibited. Using photos for educational purposes will be free of charge; although the intellectual property would remain with the authority.

"We must exploit our archaeological assets properly, in order to earn more money from providing efficient services," Hawass said, "instead of letting others do so." He told the story of an Italian group that paid $60,000 to photograph all of the objects exhibited within the Egyptian Museum. The Italians quickly recouped their investment -- and made an additional $50,000 in profit -- by selling the right to re-use the photos.

The holding company also plans to pursue intellectual property rights on its own logos and trademarks. The SCA will be the only authority allowed to use museum logos, for instance; others will have to pay royalties.

Twelve logos have already been registered as such. These include the Giza and Saqqara Pyramids, the Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic museums in Cairo, along with the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria and the Nubian Museum in Aswan, as well as the Luxor and Abu Simbel temples.

Every museum will be provided with an outlet where the company's products will be made available to the public, including replicas, t- shirts, tea sets and plates. Ebeid said Egypt was only doing what every major museum in the world had done long ago.

A committee of archaeologists, economists and legal specialists are currently laying down the company's legal foundations and its principal framework, with an aim to have it registered within a month.

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