Yesterday, I had a meeting with a good friend of mine, Deborah Lehr, the Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute (CAI) at George Washington University in the United States. Deborah came to see me as the head of an important delegation from the States called the International Coalition to Support Protection of Egyptian Antiquities. The Coalition was made up of notable representatives of the CAI, the Archaeological Institute of America, the American Schools of Oriental Research at Boston University, and the National Geographic Society.
The Coalition came to discuss ways to support the Egyptian government in protecting and repatriating its antiquities. It was a very successful meeting. We talked over several suggestions, including a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Ministry of State for Antiquities. The Coalition proposed the following immediate, medium term and long term projects:
The Coalition will be providing us with satellite images that will help us monitor intrusive activity on archaeological sites and reported that the US government is willing to impose emergency import restrictions on Egyptian antiquities. Training programs and funding to increase the level of security on sites and the number of regular inspections the Ministry makes were offered, as well as technology to better map, survey and monitor sites.
The Coalition offered training and funding to create a database of all of Egypt’s heritage sites and to further develop the Ministry’s website. A program to train recent archaeology graduates as site guards, inspectors and as assistants to site visitors was suggested, as was support for the Ministry’s existing campaign to raise awareness of heritage protection issues amongst people in Egypt and abroad. The Sesame Workshop is interested in developing TV programs, video games, cell phone downloads, books and games to help with this.
The Coalition proposed encouraging small businesses to grow in areas local to archaeological sites, using international micro-loan companies, and partnerships with universities in Egypt and abroad that could offer training courses in business management. Promoting heritage sites as ‘green sites,’ and using and encouraging environmentally friendly technology at them was also discussed, as well as ways to document previously unknown sites.
I liked and agreed to all of the Coalition’s proposals, but also asked it for help in raising funds for the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Giza and National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Old Cairo, for site management projects and for building new storage magazines. One of my achievements in recent years was building 42 new, high standard, secure storage magazines around the country. During the Revolution, these remained safe, but looters targeted the old ones. I therefore asked the Coalition for assistance to build at least 20 more like them.
The Coalition will be drafting a formal agreement between the US and Egyptian governments. The Egyptian government will be represented by the Ministry of State for Antiquities and, as soon as the agreement is signed, all of these important projects will be implemented.
I am very happy to see how much the rest of the world cares about Egyptian heritage. It means a great deal to the people of Egypt as well as to me personally that other nations are willing to offer their support. What those brave people who protected the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square on January 28 did caught the attention of the world’s media. It brought renewed respect to our country and we all take our hats off to them for the pride they brought to us. It is a tribute to them that the international community now recognizes how deeply the Egyptian people wish to safeguard their antiquities, so thank you to everyone who is trying to help.
Excitingly, many of the Coalition’s proposals will mean that lots of young Egyptians will have new employment opportunities at the Ministry of State for Antiquities.
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