Monday,19 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1400, (5 - 11 July 2018)
Monday,19 November, 2018
Issue 1400, (5 - 11 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A vision for Egypt’s antiquities

Shortly after his re-appointment as minister of antiquities in Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli’s government, Khaled El-Enany explains his vision for Egypt’s antiquities to Nevine El-Aref 

A vision for Egypt’s antiquities
A vision for Egypt’s antiquities

Although his previous term in office faced several challenges, at the top of which were budgetary problems that had been likely to prevent suspended work from being completed, Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany, whose tenure has recently been renewed, succeeded in surmounting many obstacles to put the ministry’s activities back on the right track.

After 27 months in office, many who had been initially surprised at his appointment are now applauding his management style. One foreign archaeologist who requested anonymity said that El-Enany’s passion for his work had helped promote Egypt’s image abroad as a safe country seeing exciting new discoveries and the opening of new archaeological sites, along with the sprucing up of development projects and the sending of temporary exhibitions abroad.

One ministry employee who talked to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity said that El-Enany had worked hard to improve the ministry’s human resources through providing international scholarships and skills as well as by improving living standards.

On the other hand, El-Enany’s critics have pointed to his policy of sending temporary exhibitions abroad and the soft opening and logo of the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) overlooking the Giza Plateau. They also accuse him of re-opening already inaugurated sites to promote his work. 

The Weekly spoke to El-Enany in his office at the ministry’s premises in the Cairo district of Zamalek to find out how much he has achieved, what challenges remain, and his answers to his critics. The walls of El-Enany’s spacious office are covered with ceramic gravures in foliage patterns. A replica of the well-known Ancient Egyptian painting of the Meidum Geese decorates the office’s entrance wall, while a large map of Egypt showing the country’s archaeological sites is on the wall at the far end. A reproduction of the golden necklace of the Ancient Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun hangs on another wall.

The side tables are decorated with replicas of the lion god Sekhmet, the justice goddess Maat, the boy-king Tutankhamun astride a panther and hunting on a papyrus skiff, large replicas of Islamic vases painted with foliage motifs and geometrical designs and of the iconic bust of the beautiful ancient queen Nefertiti. The office has a small leather office chair and a large meeting table with six seats.

El-Enany’s desk is kept clear and uncluttered. Nothing is on it except his mobile phones, laptop, small bell buttons to call his secretary and a block notepad on which he writes his agenda and notes. 

He completed his doctorate in Egyptology in 2001 at Montpellier III University in France, writing on Ancient Egyptian royal names. He began his academic career at the Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management at Helwan University, where he rose through the ranks. While at Helwan, El-Enany was director of the Open Learning Centre, head of the Tourism Guidance Department, vice dean for education and student affairs, and acting professor of Egyptology. He is an associate scientific expert and member of the board of administration at the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo and a visiting professor at Montpellier III University. He has lectured in France and Switzerland, as well as in Egypt.

In October 2014, he was appointed director of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) at Fustat in Cairo, and more than a year later he became director of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. In March 2016, he was appointed to Egypt’s antiquities portfolio.

During his previous tenure as minister, El-Enany aimed to embody a new vision and carry out careful plans to properly preserve the country’s antiquities, upgrade the skills of ministry staff, and work to resume archaeological projects that had been on hold. 

His previous tenure was also distinguished by several important discoveries in both Upper and Lower Egypt, a fact that led archaeologists to call the year 2017 the “year of discoveries”. It also witnessed the opening or reopening of several museums, such as those at Tel-Basta, Kom Ushim, Marsa Matrouh and the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, as well as archaeological sites such as King Farouk’s Helwan Corner, the Zaghloul Mosque in Rosetta, the Mamay Al-Seifi building in Islamic Cairo and the restored Al-Azhar Mosque. 

El-Enany also oversaw the advancement of development projects, including the inauguration of a temporary exhibition hall at the NMEC and continued construction work on the GEM, which is now 80 per cent complete. The Giza Plateau Development Project is 90 per cent complete and is expected to be finished soon.

Restoration work at the Graeco-Roman Museum and the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria, as well as on the Baron Empain Palace in Heliopolis in Cairo, are also underway, as is the restoration and rehabilitation of several Islamic monuments in Rosetta with the aim to develop the area into an open-air museum for Islamic art. 

A pre-qualification stage tendering process for local and international companies and consortia to bid for contracts to manage and operate facilities at the GEM complex has also been launched as well as the new museum’s promotional logo.

 

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UTURE DREAMS: “My dream is to complete all the unfinished projects, chief among them the GEM, the Giza Plateau Development Project, the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor, the Baron Empain Palace in Heliopolis, the Graeco-Roman Museum and Jewish Synagogue in Alexandria and the NMEC in Cairo,” El-Enany told the Weekly.

The minister responded to recent criticisms of the newly unveiled logo of the GEM, asserting that it was only promotional and aimed at the branding, marketing and advertising of the GEM on a grand scale. It was not the final design, he said, and he welcomed all comments and criticisms from the various syndicates, universities and artists on the matter.

He promised to launch an international competition among Egyptian and foreign artists to select a final logo for the GEM after its completion and inauguration, as well as one for the NMEC and other museums in Egypt. “No museums or archaeological sites in Egypt have logos at the moment except the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, whose first ever logo was created in 2002 to celebrate its centennial,” El-Enany pointed out.

“Sending exhibitions abroad has been the ministry’s policy for years. I did not invent it. Such exhibitions promote Egypt’s archaeological heritage. They provide free promotional campaigns, attracting tourists as well as generating money for conservation and the completion of suspended development projects,” El-Enany said, responding to a question about his sending of exhibitions abroad.

“Egypt’s revenue from the Tutankhamun exhibition now on display in Los Angeles is estimated at $50 million for each county and state involved, and there will also be a percentage paid on the number of tickets and souvenirs sold. The ministry will benefit from 10 per cent of the value of the items sold, as well as by $1 for each visitor above 400,000, reaching $4 per visitor at 700,000 visitors.”

The exhibition had been featured in the international headlines and on street and other advertising, he said, helping to drive home the message that Egypt is safe for foreign visitors. Next week in Monaco another exhibition on the Gold of the Pharaohs displaying a collection of 150 items of jewellery and piece of art will be inaugurated to promote Egypt in a top European summer resort. 

“I will get the best use of exhibitions abroad through the revision of the committee responsible for them,” El-Enany said, adding that he wanted to see this include economic and marketing experts as well as accountants in order to produce concrete studies of insurance amounts and the best financial use of exhibition revenues.

El-Enany said he had never re-opened an already open museum or site in Islamic Cairo, as some had claimed. All the newly opened sites had been closed for restoration, he said. “Islamic monuments are living edifices that have to be maintained and refurbished every now and then, such as mosques, wekalas [trading buildings] and beits [houses].”

The most dangerous risk factor for Islamic monuments is the subterranean water that can leak into the buildings and have negative impacts on walls, floors and woodwork. To help protect and preserve such monuments, 81 rescue projects had been launched to restore and preserve 100 edifices in Islamic Cairo, El-Enany said. 

To protect them from looting, as they had recently been targeted by robbers and antiquities traders, the ministry had started an ambitious scheme to document artefacts and pulpits in the country’s mosques, El-Enany said. He said the project was a step towards the preservation and protection of these artefacts, as well as their counterparts in Coptic and Jewish monuments threatened by antiquities traders. 

Early last year, seven lanterns from the Al-Refaai Mosque in Cairo were stolen, though they were later recovered. Nine years ago, the pulpit of the Qanibay Al-Ramah Mosque in the Citadel area was stolen and still has not been found. “Documenting the pulpits and artefacts in mosques is a very important way of protecting them from threats,” he concluded.

Documenting the pulpits also does not mean removing them from the buildings, though they will be transferred from their original locations if this is the most efficient measure for their preservation.

The conversation turned to ministry efforts to recover Egypt’s illegally stolen and smuggled antiquities.

Over the past two years, Egypt had succeeded in repatriating 975 stolen artefacts from 10 foreign countries, El-Enany said. The latest retrieval was late last week from Italy with the help of the Foreign Ministry, the office of the prosecutor-general in Egypt and the Italian authorities. A collection of 21,660 coins and 195 objects consisting of 151 faience ushabti statuettes, 11 clay plain and decorated pots, five cartonnage gilded mummy masks, a wooden sarcophagus, two symbolic wooden boats of the dead, canopic jar lids, and three porcelain tiles decorated with foliage scenes from the Islamic era have been recovered.

Through its Recovered Antiquities Department, the ministry combs auction house catalogues and websites worldwide, identifying stolen items so they can be withdrawn from sale and returned. Meanwhile, local antiquities inspection units are compiling an inventory of items missing from storehouses or chipped from monuments to be checked against items up for auction. 

Security systems will be upgraded at archaeological sites and museums, a new state-of-the-art storehouse will be built, and new legislation increasing the penalties for those found guilty of illegally dealing in antiquities has been approved in the amendments to Egypt’s antiquities law.

 

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INISTRY FINANCES: El-Enany said the ministry’s debts from the Ministry of Finance since 2011 had reached LE6 billion, as the latter had provided the Ministry of Antiquities with around LE75 million a month for the salaries of its 32,414 employees. 

The ministry’s revenues are used to proceed with restoration projects, he added. “Revenue has increased from last year with the rise of tickets prices at archaeological sites and revenues from exhibitions,” El-Enany said, adding that in November ticket prices would be increased again. 

The establishment of an antiquities holding company was also a very important means of generating revenue for the ministry by offering professional services alongside high-quality commercial products. Implementing site-management projects and providing cultural programmes for children and adults in an attempt to emphasise their sense of national belonging and raise their cultural and archaeological awareness will all be part of the holding company’s mandate. 

The ministry will soon be setting up its first factory for replicas with a budget of LE1 million, he said. “This will not only be a revenue channel for the ministry, but also an employment opportunity for young people.”

The upcoming period will see the accomplishment of several archaeological projects, El-Enany said, adding that a new discovery would be announced in mid-July and the Giza Plateau Development Project is to be completed within two weeks. 

After the completion of the project, the plateau will be proclaimed a pedestrian area and access around it will be by golf cart. A visitor route has been established to take visitors on an unforgettable promenade through the Old Kingdom necropolis on 14 stops. Cars and buses will park in a special parking area in front of the plateau’s new entrance on the Cairo-Fayoum Road. The current gate on the Pyramids Road will be closed and used only for official visits. 

A visitor centre will greet visitors upon arrival, preparing them for their tour with a detailed map of every monument on the site as well as background information on the plateau and Old Kingdom kings, queens, officials and priests. The Sphinxes Avenue in Luxor will also be completed within the next six months. An existing church will be removed and another one built further away for worshippers to free up the area. The services building of the existing Coptic church will be removed, and the whole avenue will be open to visitors by the end of 2018.

The long-awaited Sohag Museum is to be opened next month after a delay of 28 years. Construction work on the museum was started in 1990, but then stopped until 2016. The Abydos visitor centre in Sohag is to be inaugurated at the same time. 

Three exhibition halls will be opened at the NMEC by the end of this year as well as the Jewish Synagogue in Alexandria and the Baron Empain Palace in Cairo. The Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria and the Tanta and Kafr Al-Sheikh museum in Delta will be inaugurated in mid-2019.

By the end of 2018, construction work on the GEM will be completed, El-Enany said. The museum’s first phase will be ready for inauguration within the first quarter of 2019, including the atrium, the grand staircase and the 7,000 metre Tutankhamun Gallery where the entire collection of the golden boy-king will be exhibited for the first time in the shape of more than 5,000 treasured artefacts.

“Within days, the first showcase for the Tutankhamun funerary collection is to arrive in Egypt,” El-Enany said, adding that the fabrication of these high-tech showcases had taken 12 months of work in Germany and Italy. The showcases for the rest of the GEM collection will take another year to finish and will be made in Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Japan.

The Ministry of Antiquities is also trying a new kind of cooperation with the private sector to spruce up facilities at archaeological sites and museums.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation it has recently launched the pre-qualification stage for local and international companies and consortium to bid for the contract to manage and operate facilities at the GEM. This has improved success as several companies have shown their interest and asked for extensions of the submission deadline.

El-Enany went on to say that the GEM would have much more to offer besides the extraordinary Ancient Egyptian artefacts, since there would also be revenue-generating opportunities to guarantee the sustainability of this cultural complex and the diversity of its activities and events. 

It will have a conference centre for more than 1,000 guests, a cinema for 500 persons, an attractive retail area with 28 shops and eight restaurants, a further two large restaurants and an open-air theatre overlooking the Pyramids and spacious piazzas for festivals with more than 15,000 participants. There is also a large multi-functional building attached to the complex that can be used for administration, rendered as a boutique hotel, or used for other innovative purposes.

Several other opportunities have been bid for by the private sector. The most recent is a request for a building on the touristic esplanade in Hurghada to be transformed into a museum. Although the ministry has an empty plot there for a museum project, it would require LE1 billion to execute it. As a result, it will put all the security and technical requirements for a museum out to tender, and the building will be completed as a public-private partnership. The ministry will transfer the artefacts, and the building will be under the full authority and management of the ministry, while its private-sector owner will have 50 per cent of the revenues.

The new Hurghada Museum will open in mid-2019. Similar cooperation has been carried out with the Kafr Al-Sheikh and Matrouh governorates and has led to the inauguration of the Matrouh National Museum and preparation work on the Kafr Al-Sheikh National Museum.

El-Enany is almost satisfied with his achievements over the last two years, but he believes there is still much to do. He also hopes that during his tenure he will be able to complete all the suspended projects as well as raise the living standards of archaeologists further, providing them with medical insurance and a syndicate and allowing them to take the lead in archaeological work in their native land. 

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