Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The boots of Mohamed Salah

The British Museum’s decision to display the boots of football player Mohamed Salah next to a statue of the Pharaoh Ramses II is a scandal of international proportions, writes Zahi Hawass


The boots of Mohamed Salah
The boots of Mohamed Salah

I believe that Neal Spencer, the curator of the Egyptian Department at the British Museum in London, has committed a criminal act in putting the boots of Egyptian international footballer Mohamed Salah inside the Egyptian Gallery of the museum in front of the statue of Ramses II.

I cannot believe that the authorities at the British Museum agreed to this crime. Some people have told me that the reason Salah’s boots were placed there was to generate publicity for the museum as it could inspire Liverpool football fans, the team for which Salah plays, to visit the museum. The museum would increase the number of its visitors and would also make money from Adidas, the company which manufactured Salah’s boots. His name is now associated with the company’s products.

However, I think this is bad publicity as it shows that those behind it have no respect for Egyptian monuments and the Ancient Egyptian heritage. They do not deserve such great and beautiful objects, which truly represent a great civilisation, to be kept in their museum. The decision to place Salah’s boots in the museum is simply cheap advertising. Spencer’s act in placing the boots inside a display case was also astounding. I do not know why he wore gloves in order to place these boots in front of the statue of the great Pharaoh Ramses II.

Of course, we all love Salah, who has become an icon for all Egyptians. I myself watch his games, and I have begun to be a Liverpool fan because of him. Salah, a very modest man, also often helps the people of his village. However, his boots should be exhibited in a sports museum, not a museum that exhibits the ancient history of the Pharaohs. Salah is also not an antiquarian object fitting a museum of this type. His place is in a sports museum, or in a hall of football legends.

It is quite a feat for him to have his boots put on display, celebrating his achievements, but the British Museum is not the correct place. This opinion has been reiterated by the Egyptian actor Nabil Al-Halafawi on Twitter. Other Egyptians are also angry at the British Museum and its curator. One MP has questioned the foreign minister and the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt, asking how the British Museum could place Salah’s boots in front of the Ancient Egyptian artefacts.

We are wondering if another player achieves scores the same or better than Salah’s, will they also put his boots in the Egyptian Gallery? If so, the British Museum will become a museum not of culture but of shoes.

The archaeological artefacts and the art of the Pharaohs in the British Museum demonstrate the achievements of a great people who taught the world science, art, culture and technology. We cannot permit everyone who has achieved something in his career to put his boots near such great artefacts. How can we gaze at artefacts dating back 5,000 years and then see shoes beside them? Would we put the shoes of former presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser or Anwar Al-Sadat or of Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz in the Egyptian Museum? The civilised world is laughing at Spencer’s act, as he ought to respect what he oversees.

Why are the boots of football players Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo not in museums in their home countries? The answer is that no curator in Brazil, Argentina or Portugal would agree to it. The artefacts of Ancient Egypt are in the British Museum, but their ownership is nevertheless Egyptian. We must have the right to stop such acts.

I remember that Dietrich Wildung, the then director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, once asked a sculptor to make a bronze sculpture of a woman, which he took to the museum. He put it next to the beautiful bust of the Ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti. I criticised him fiercely at the time, mobilising the international community in protest against this act.

The staging of Salah’s boots in the British Museum is ridiculous. Wildung’s act was unwise, but what Spencer has done is more than that. He has lost our respect as a result. I do not think Salah will agree to see his boots beside the great statue of Ramses II in the museum, and I am sure he will understand our anger.

What can we do in response to this crime? The Permanent Committee of the Supreme Council of Antiquities should meet quickly and send a warning to the British Museum to remove these shoes immediately. If not, the archaeological expeditions of the British Museum in Egypt should be stopped.

I am sure that Ramses II is also not at all happy at the museum’s act. He will likely put his curse on Spencer and others who made the decision to put Salah’s boots in front of his statue.

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