Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Heritage not for rent

Mohamed Ibrahim, state minister of antiquities, explains to Nevine El-Aref why he resigned from the Kandil government and addresses the accusations levelled against him

Al-Ahram Weekly

Just two months after he resigned, Mohamed Ibrahim regained his post as state minister of antiquities in the current interim government led by Hazem Al-Beblawi.
Choosing Ibrahim was not an archaeologist’s cup of tea because of widespread rumours upon his resignation from Hisham Kandil’s government in May 2013. The rumours described Ibrahim as a minister who attempted to rent Egypt’s heritage to Qatar through two ancient Egyptian exhibitions in Qatar and Turkey and sponsored by top MB leader Khairat Al-Shater. Ibrahim’s tenure also witnessed massive encroachment on archaeological sites.
At his office in Salaheddin Citadel Ibrahim sits at ease with some papers in hand. He is no stranger to the post as he previously held it in the caretaker government led by Kamal Al-Ganzouri and continued to fill the post in Kandil’s government. However, in the cabinet reshuffle on 7 May, Ibrahim was replaced by Ahmed Eissa, dean of the Faculty of Archaeology at Al-Wadi Al-Gadid University.
Before holding Egypt’s archaeological portfolio Ibrahim was chief of the Tourism Guide English Department in the Faculty of Arts at Ain Shams University. After graduating in archaeology from Cairo University he served for eight years in the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), now the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA), where he was an antiquities inspector for the Abu Simbel temples, chief inspector of Edfu, Kom Ombo and Aswan monuments in Upper Egypt, and general director of the Saqqara district south of Cairo.
In 1987 Ibrahim abandoned archaeological field work and moved to France where he earned a diploma and doctorate in Egyptology from Lyons University. He also received a certificate in museum management from the American Information Centre in the United States. In addition to his academic work at Alexandria and Ain Shams universities, Ibrahim supervised the museological work and interior design of the planned Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) overlooking the Giza Plateau.
Ibrahim told Al-Ahram Weekly that all the accusations levelled against him were “unfounded lies without any evidence”. He said a letter on the Internet and Facebook “with my signature approving giving Al-Shater a collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts is forged.” The decision taken to hold an exhibition abroad, explains Ibrahim, is not one of the minister’s responsibilities. “A minister does not have the authority to give or offer the nation’s properties to another country or people.” He said sending an exhibition abroad requires “lots of procedures and approvals from the government”.
As for the letter sent to the MSA from the minister of finance in Kandil’s government about a proposal suggested by an Egyptian citizen to rent out Egypt’s key archaeological sites in an attempt to increase the government’s budget, that was “totally rejected” because it is against Egypt’s antiquities law. “Egypt’s archaeological heritage is the nation’s properties which cannot be sold or rented or granted by any means,” affirmed Ibrahim, adding that Egyptians are the only people who are allowed to invest in Egypt’s heritage.
Ibrahim also sees that the announcement made by dean Eissa during his meeting at the dissolved Shura Council that UNESCO is warning Egypt that it might remove several Egyptian sites from the World Heritage List for a lack of development, is a gimmick as part of a plot on Egypt’s monuments.
“UNESCO did not make any threat and the previous government was trying to find a way to rent the monuments so it invented a false statement attributed to UNESCO to justify their plot.”
As for encroachment on archaeological sites during his previous tenure, Ibrahim said, “it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of the lack of security.
“For example, the Dahshour encroachment happened because people of the neighbouring Dahshour village broke into its archaeological site armed with RPGs in order to dig more cemeteries to bury the dead of their families. The modern cemeteries allocated for them were flooded with corpses and they don’t have enough space to bury more.
“They succeeded in seizing the area at King Amenemhat’s pyramid because guards at the archaeological site were not able to hold back people with guns and sticks.”
Now the problem is solved as the MSA gave them another area 500 metres to build their cemeteries. This area is free of any antiquities.
“I am not neglecting Egypt’s antiquities but my hands are tied because of the lack of security and a budget,” asserted Ibrahim.
“Now I am trying to find a way, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, to increase the ministry’s budget. Therefore, I solved all the problems with the Armed Forces who are the contractors of the planned Sharm El-Sheikh museum as all construction work was put on hold for financial reasons.
“This museum will be the only archaeological attraction in Sharm El-Sheikh which of course will be visited by all the city’s residents whether locals or foreigners,” Ibrahim said.
“I have a lot to do in order to protect more of Egypt’s antiquities and to spruce up its budget. The interim government trusts me and appointed me to the post. All archaeologists and MSA employees are welcoming my return to work.”
Ibrahim was asked whether he abandoned the MSA premises in Zamalek to the Citadel due to the continuous protests against him. “This is not the case at all. The protesters only include a dozen demonstrators who have personal demands.” He promised to do his best to meet their demands and also pledged to solve the problem of the appointment of fresh graduate archaeologists in the MSA. “I will exert all efforts to solve this problem,” asserted Ibrahim, adding that he would call on all concerned authorities in the government to find a legal solution to the issue. According to newly issued Law 19/2012, and the former prime minister’s decision, it is prohibited to appoint new employees to any section in the government.
Ibrahim pointed out that he chose the Citadel to be his office “because it is a serene place for work, and to abandon the crowds of Zamalek. A visitor to the MSA can stay an hour searching for a parking place in Zamalek,” Ibrahim told the Weekly.
“Regrettably the ministry has a big funding problem,” said Ibrahim. After the January Revolution, he continued, the ministry lost a big part of its financial resources due to the decline in tourism. The MSA’s revenue last month for example reached LE31 million and the salaries of MSA employees in one month is LE55 million in addition to money needed for archaeological and restoration work. To fill that gap, said Ibrahim, the MSA debited LE830 million from the Ministry of Finance.
“I have to work hard to spruce up all construction, development and restoration work that was put on hold over the last year in an attempt to attract more tourists to Egypt, the numbers of which severely declined,” Ibrahim told the Weekly, adding that this includes construction of the Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking the Giza Plateau, the National Museum for Egyptian Civilisation in Old Cairo’s Fustat district, restoration of Alexandria’s Graeco-Roman Museum and the development project of Giza Plateau and Manial Palace.
New sites will be officially inaugurated, such as the Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor and the Hanging Church in Old Cairo.
These new sites would attract more tourists to Egypt which in turn would increase the MSA budget.
“We will also encourage exhibitions abroad, especially in Arab countries in an attempt to provide more financial resources.
“Tightening security measures at archaeological sites countrywide in order to halt encroachments on them made over the last two years tops all priorities,” Ibrahim said. He added that this can be achieved in collaboration with Egypt’s tourism and antiquities police by providing better trained and better-armed security guards at all archaeological sites and museums.
“Training MSA personnel in the use of state-of-the-art security equipment in order to thwart attempts to violate archaeological sites could be another solution along with tightening security measures to prevent further encroachment,” he suggests.
Ibrahim also told the Weekly that he has proposed inserting two articles in Egypt’s new constitution to protect the country’s heritage.
The first article stipulates that the community, with its diverse ideological and political segments, should protect and preserve Egypt’s cultural and archaeological heritage and prohibit the tampering with, mutilating, or defacing of it.
The second article, said Ibrahim, urges state authorities to spread cultural and archaeological awareness among Egyptians and in regional and international communities. It also proposes stronger protection of the country’s intellectual rights in the field of antiquities.
Ibrahim said this addition came because the old constitution did not have a separate article concerning the protection of the country’s cultural and archaeological heritage but was a part of the state’s care of all rights and freedoms. “This does not bode well for Egypt’s diverse heritage.”

add comment

  • follow us on