Many people make the mistake of thinking that dreams cannot come true, but they can. You have to believe, and know that they are more than just imagination.

— Zahi Hawass

Can Egypt Protect its Ancient Monuments?

 As those of you who have followed my website know, there was some looting and land grabbing, and even the Egyptian Museum was vandalized and robbed. At one point, I myself resigned in protest when I felt that the authorities were not doing enough to protect our monuments. However, the situation was never as bad as many of the unconfirmed reports had implied, and it is now greatly improved.

Hundreds of artifacts stolen from one magazine in the Delta were returned, and almost half of the objects stolen from the Egyptian Museum have been recovered. The army is backing up the authority of the Ministry of State for Antiquities -- only last week, the army removed a newly-built cemetery and mosque above ancient Memphis, and are continuing to support MSA work to reclaim our sites. 

 One of the most heartening things about recent events was the extent to which regular Egyptians were willing to go to protect their cultural heritage. Yes, there were many vandals and thieves who took advantage of the unrest for personal gain, but there were also many people who stood up against them. When the Egyptian Museum was attacked, young protesters formed a human chain around it to protect it. In some remote sites, local villagers took it upon themselves to organize patrols to scare off would-be looters. If this revolution, with the resulting power vacuum, had happened anywhere else, I think that the vandalism and theft would have been much more extensive, as it was, for example, in Iraq.

 I have been distressed by recent reports that exaggerate the damage done to our antiquities, and by unwarranted criticism of our policies and actions. Yes, the MSA faces many challenges and difficulties, and the path ahead will not be easy. As was the case before the revolution, we are confronted by many threats, from pollution and the rise of the water table, to land-grabbing and looting, to mass tourism. But our critics should know that we have been tackling these issues for many years now, and have made enormous progress already. I believe that the positive actions taken by many Egyptians, and the willingness of the army to step in quickly, are due to a large extent to the hard work we have been doing over recent decades to educate our population about the importance of our past, and to protect and preserve our shared cultural heritage.

 I would like to remind everyone of just some of the many actions we have already taken to protect our monuments, and to build a better infrastructure for the future:

  • During my tenure as the head of the Antiquities Service, we built 47 new storage magazines across the country. Although some of the older ones were targeted in the Revolution, these new ones were safe.

  • Much has been done in recent years to professionalize the Antiquities Service, and Egyptian archaeology now involves a great many more Egyptians. I have launched training programs for the Ministry’s 32,000 employees, in areas such a systematic excavation techniques, database management, and other skills necessary for the administration of Egypt’s heritage.

  • Site management programs have been drawn up for most of the sites most heavily visited by tourists. Great improvements have been made to the Valley of the Kings, for example, which now has an emergency plan for the tombs, and we plan to build a visitors center near the newly-renovated and repurposed Howard Carter Rest House/Museum; close to this visitors center will be replicas of some of the most vulnerable tombs, several of which are currently closed to preserve them.

  • 22 new museums are being built across the country, most importantly the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) at Giza, which will open in 2015, and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Fustat. The new Akhenaten Museum in el-Minya has recently been finished.

  • 8000 guards have been employed to protect archaeological sites and monuments. They are well paid and receive training from the Security Department.

  • Egyptian laws for the protection of antiquities have been strengthened and antiquities inspectors have been put in place at every border crossing and port to identify and stop those attempting to smuggle artifacts out of the country. Since 2002, over 5000 objects have been repatriated from all over the world, many with the help of agencies such as the US Department of Homeland Security, Scotland Yard, and Interpol.

  • A major national project to re-survey and map all archaeological sites has been running since 2005; this project is working to redefine site boundaries and make sure that proper buffer zones are in place.

  • A new database of sites, monuments, and objects is currently being designed; this is planned to manage information about all of Egypt's sites and monuments, objects in museums and storage magazines, and will even include archival documents. This will eventually be a major on-line resource, available world-wide.

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