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The Case Against the Grand Egyptian Museum

[Tahrir Square. Image from unknown archive.] [Tahrir Square. Image from unknown archive.]

A Modern Museum for an Ancient Nation?

With the French Revolution came the first truly public museum in the world, the Louvre, which opened its doors in 1793. Private collections owned by wealthy individuals were made accessible to the middle and upper classes in major European cities roughly since the eighteenth century. Access to such collections by a greater public was seen as one of the engines of European enlightenment. With the emergence of public museums came a new approach to art history that considered the views of the beholder, rather than just the viewpoint of the artist. New fields of knowledge became essential because museums were national spaces where identities were negotiated through the ritual of viewing untouchable objects.

Power relations between object, owner, institution, and viewer were constructed based on class relations: aristocrats owned precious objects that could be viewed by a wider audience within an institutional setting. Once objects were clearly identified as unfamiliar, such as Pharaonic, new dimensions including race and exoticism were added to the museum experience. Awe-inspiring ancient art from faraway places stimulated a wave of travel, treasure hunting, and exploration to destinations such as Egypt.

In Egypt, beginning in the nineteenth century, the Khedival family and wealthy individuals with the intent of preserving national memory collected items that would later fill Egypt’s museums. Egypt’s museums were the product of a nineteenth century European understanding of Egyptian history, which divided it into four discrete periods: Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic, and Islamic. Until today, Egypt’s four leading museums each focus on one of these eras in the absence of a true national museum that crosses these constructed, discrete historical phases. Moreover, since the nineteenth century, museums in Egypt have been associated with travel, although they were not intended to be purely touristic destinations.

The Egyptian Museum, more accurately known as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, was established in 1835 by the government in Azbakiyya and later moved to multiple locations. Its current Tahrir Square, salmon-colored edifice was built in 1901. The politics of Egyptian archaeology and the Museum—where newly discovered objects were stored or displayed — were complex as Elliott Colla expounded in his 2007 book, Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity. European explorers dominated Egyptian archaeology, as well as the processes by which found items were catalogued, studied, and displayed.

After the 1952 coup d’état, Gamal Abdel Nasser established an Egyptian Ministry of Culture. For a few years, Pharaonic Egypt captured the national imagination, until Nasser’s regime fully focused on Pan-Arabism. During those brief early years, the state directly manipulated Egypt’s cultural history and material legacy to fit a nationalist narrative. Certain personalities and episodes were celebrated, such as Mena, the first king who unified Egypt three millennia BCE. Celebrating the heritage of Ancient Egypt was further illustrated in 1955 by the placement of Ramses II’s colossal statue at the heart of Cairo’s main square just outside the train station. Films, exhibitions, photography books, home decorations, and fashion were inspired by Ancient Egypt. Tahrir Square was the center of Nasser’s Cairo, and the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities was at the heart of Tahrir Square.

With Anwar Sadat’s “liberal economy” and series of privatizations after 1970, the state was no longer the primary patron of culture. Privatization came at the same time as the rebirth of mass tourism in Egypt. By then, the economic gap between Egyptians and international tourists had widened. Also, the number of tourists able to travel had increased dramatically from the previous decade; travel was made easier with more accessible air travel. Five-star hotels began to line the Nile, and tour operators bused flocks of tourists between Cairo’s main attractions.

In 1979, when Jehan Sadat hosted a three-day fundraiser headlined by Frank Sinatra who performed beside the Great Pyramids and Sphinx, guests were promised unrestricted access to ancient Egyptian sites, and the Museum was closed to the public to allow their private visit. Few Egyptians were invited to this event, which included a fashion show at the Pyramids, visits to other historical sites, and five-star accommodations. These were the features of Egypt’s refashioned tourism industry.

The Egyptian Museum became a destination for package tourists to indulge in their fantasies about mummies and the Boy King. From the start, the Museum fulfilled touristic and cultural functions for different audiences. However, by the 1970s it had lost its cultural orientation towards Egyptian audiences and had become more exclusively touristic. The erection of a high iron fence around the building that was once directly accessible from Tahrir Square further isolated it from Egyptians. In the following decades, the Egyptian Museum became heavily guarded and functioned more as a storage facility rather than as one of the most important public museums in the world.

A Secure Museum for Whom?

The Egyptian state has been firmly in control of archaeology and of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities for several decades. Egypt’s first and only Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, personifies the notion that Egyptians are in control of their ancient heritage, previously dominated by Europeans. This control has translated into security-oriented policies that claim to protect artifacts from theft and vandalism. In reality, this has meant protecting artifacts from Egyptian masses, while making them available to tourists. The government has not capitalized on Egypt’s material legacy as a cultural resource central to discourses on national identity and heritage. The Supreme Council of Antiquities’ main goals have been security not accessibility and mass tourism not culture.

My first visit to the Museum as an adult was in 2006, when a friend was visiting Cairo from the United States. As we approached the security checkpoint, a foreboding first encounter with a cultural institution, identification was requested of us. I had never been asked for identification to enter a museum anywhere else in the world, let alone the most important museum in my home country. While she had no problem entering, being American, I was questioned about my relationship with my friend and my reasons for entering the museum. As an Egyptian, who is not a tour guide, I was treated as an object of suspicion.

This visit made clear to me that the purpose of the Egyptian Museum is purely touristic. Museums have become fortified storehouses for badly labeled, disorganized artifacts meant to be consumed purely as objects with little historical significance besides their apparent old age. Tourists are meant to be the prime consumers of these objects, as they pay seventy to one hundred pounds to enter in contrast to Egyptians who are charged a few pounds.

The Egyptian Museum displays neither tell a story nor convey a coherent narrative, national or otherwise. Instead, the organization of displays is sometimes by theme, such as the famous room of mummified animals, by a period or by a person such as King Tut and his objects. What is lacking is not a manipulation of objects for a nationalist narrative, but rather evidence of a central component of any successful museum: curation.

At present, the Museum’s organization is a priori. Egypt’s top public museum demonstrates not only the greatness of ancient Egyptians but also the near absence of the fields of public history, museum studies, and art history in today’s Egypt. Even the most studious visitor will not leave the Museum with a better understanding of the historical evolution of ancient Egyptians’ lives. Nor do displays confront the modern history associated with the exploitation of ancient Egyptian art and its fluctuating position in the formations of national and colonial identities in Egypt and in Europe.

Because Egyptian tourism is dominated by the package tour variety, most visitors experience the Museum as part of a larger group herded around by a tour guide who is trained to showcase certain pieces, while breezing by the rest. The antiquities authorities fail to realize that the majority of tourists who visit the Museum have been to museums in their own countries, which are probably better maintained and curated. This means that most visitors leave the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities distraught by its poor state and out-of-date displays and organization. When it comes to Egypt’s museums and cultural sites, few visitors will be inclined for a return visit.

Most importantly, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, like others around the country, has little or no connection to the general public. During the uprising in Tahrir Square, when Egyptians formed a human shield around the museum, it was to protect it from other Egyptians. Those who see the historical and national value of museums are a minority due to state policies that have disenfranchised the public and reduced Egyptian culture into easy-to-consume clichés that target foreigners.

Since Hawass’ rise to international stardom, his power has reached far beyond his area of expertise to include Egypt’s entire historical heritage from the pre-Pharaonic period to the twentieth century and everything in between. Yet, he is the de facto Director of all of Egypt’s museums and historic sites. These museums and their organization, linked to a particularly Eurocentric understanding of Egyptian history, have not been reconfigured to fit an alternative narrative beyond the neat four-part division conceived a century earlier. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities became known as The Egyptian Museum, as if the Greco-Roman, Coptic, and Islamic Museums are any less Egyptian. A native has colonized Egyptian heritage.

Adding insult to injury, during the Tahrir protests of 9 March, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities became known as salakhana: the torture chamber. Military police used the museum as a command center, due to its secure location, where they held, interrogated, and tortured protesters. The single most important museum in the country with Egypt’s most valuable artifacts was transformed into a place where Egyptians were beaten and humiliated.

A New Museum for a New Egypt?

During a visit to the Egyptian Museum in Torino, I was blown away by what I witnessed. It was not the immaculate or simple displays, the clear labeling, and the well thought out organization, or even the lighting and temperature controls that impressed me. Rather, I admired the sight of hundreds of school children accompanied by their teachers and divided into smaller groups touring the building. These children were told interesting stories about the objects and artifacts, about ancient Egyptian society and religion, and about the historical value of each artifact. It seemed to me that Italian school children learn more about ancient Egyptian history than Egyptian school children do.

The Egyptian Museum in Torino is second in the world after Egypt’s own. And Italian children are taught that the museum is part of their national cultural heritage: busts of Italian explorers are displayed alongside descriptions of their contributions to Egyptology. Children learn not only about Ancient Egypt but also about the “civilized” Italians who unearthed the objects, studied them, brought them to Italy, and carefully displayed them. School trips to Torino’s Egyptian Museum reenact a civilizing ritual, colonial as it may be, that is at the core of its mission.

The idea is not to bring Egyptian school children to Egypt’s museums and direct them to learn one version of history or another. Rather, what is lacking is fostering respect for history, historical objects and buildings to cultivate a sense of ownership, while utilizing museums as spaces to stimulate critical thinking. Instead, Egyptian school children’s brief encounter with the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities has been in the form of drilling certain clichés, such as the King Mena story, which were to be memorized and accepted.

There is no excuse for Cairo’s Museum of Egyptian Antiquities’ current condition with peeling paint and missing artifacts replaced by hand-written notes saying in Arabic “under restoration” or “in a traveling exhibition.” The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is in need of serious remodeling and expansion. This surely will be expensive and will need a grand vision to transform and update this important institution of world heritage.

However, the recent drastic decision to move this urban institution out of the heart of the city and into the desert two kilometers from the Pyramids is a calamity and a disgrace. To signal the decision, in 2006 the red granite colossus of Ramses II that adorned central Cairo since 1955 was removed to a storage facility at the city’s edge, where it awaits a new home in the proposed Grand Egyptian Museum.

Public museums are fundamentally urban centers firmly tied to their metropolitan contexts. The mere visibility of Paris’ Louvre pyramid and inside-out Pompidou Center or New York’s Metropolitan Museum in their urbane settings is as important as the contents of these world-famous buildings. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is forever associated with its Tahrir Square location, especially after the well-photographed and documented uprising that took place at its doorstep. Moving the museum into a desert location outside the city center serves the museum’s current priorities of security and tourist exclusivity. Are these still the priorities of Egypt’s leading museum in light of the unfinished and ongoing uprising?

The decision to move to a far-flung location, despite the availability of a large swath of land in the heart of Tahrir Square is mysterious. The area in front of the Museum was the athletic field of the Army Barracks that once occupied the site of the former Nile Hilton and the Arab League. The area became public land and was transformed in 1954 into a public garden at the heart of Tahrir Square. Parts of it were taken away and made into a bus station, then a parking lot, under Sadat. And for much of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency, a large area had been fenced off and made into a site of permanent construction supposedly for an underground parking facility with little progress to show after over a decade.

It would be ideal to build the modern extension of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities directly adjacent to the existing building in the heart of the city, but this does not fit into Mubarak era anti-urban policies. For decades, Mubarak’s governments favored exclusive gated developments over integrated urban projects. The earliest example of those policies was the 1985 decision to build Cairo’s new Opera in a gated campus in Zamalek, rather than rebuild it in its original location at the heart of Opera Square.

If Egyptians will be paying for the proposed 550 million dollar facility, then they must be the institution’s primary beneficiaries, and they must have access to it. The project is funded with over 350 million dollars in loans that Egyptians will have to pay back for decades. However, with a dismal public transit system and without plans to have the metro reach the new museum by its scheduled opening, Egyptians will be further alienated from their own ancient heritage. For many, the museum will be out of sight and thus out of mind.

The investment of 550 million dollars for a museum in a city where sixty-five percent of the population live in informal areas— many without proper sewer systems, potable water, and electricity—seems outrageous. The public will benefit little from the project, given current cultural and urban policies. A few 100 million dollars in modern tram lines, similar to Istanbul’s newest tram car routes, would have a greater impact on the public and would benefit residents and tourists alike. But this is not about making choices: museum or mass transit infrastructure.

I argue that public interest was never taken into account when planning this move. The state is treating the museum project as a capitalist development project instead of a national project. And the flashy name, “Grand Egyptian Museum,” reinforces colonial divisions of Egyptian history with a tinge of Las Vegas.

In addition, the 550 million dollar price tag is rather large considering that San Francisco’s De Young Museum, completed in 2005, cost only an investment of 200 million dollars. So why the inflated price tag, when Egyptian labor, the biggest chunk of a building budget after materials, is paid dismal wages? The current museum operates as a cash cow. Why has it not raised more funds over the last decade during which little of its income has been spent on maintenance? These questions are not unique to the new museum project; Cairo Airport’s Terminal 3 cost more than Istanbul’s counterpart, yet it is nearly half its size. With little oversight, corruption is a consistent feature of such grandiose projects.

In the last sixty years, most Egyptians experienced heritage either as it was fed to them by the state or as a tertiary, unimportant element of life given that over half of the population lives under the international poverty line. It will be difficult to bring those who have been disenfranchised back to Egypt’s museums and cultural institutions. And this will be made even more difficult as museums continue to function with a security-minded, tourist-centric approach that incorporates no programs and initiatives to attract the public after they move their buildings to inaccessible, gated desert locations.

The case against the Grand Egyptian Museum plans is not limited to the choice of its location. The managerial system that currently operates museums is faulty. Does the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities’ Director have real authority? Who are the Trustees? Is there a Board with the mandate to make decisions? Who is supervising the traveling exhibitions and the income they generate? What do we know about the new sleek gift and bookshop where security, lighting, air conditioning, and displays are in much better shape than their counterparts elsewhere in the Museum? Do shop revenues go to the Museum? Or is the shop an independent commercial entity?

It is outrageous that a single man has dominated such a world-famous public institution, let alone all of Egyptian archaeology, for the last twenty years. Every other position in the institution has become symbolic with no real powers, and all must bow to the Minister of Antiquities. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities along with all of Egypt’s museums is in serious need of an institutional overhaul that divides powers, insures financial sustainability, allows museums to be integral parts of the community, and guarantees the safety of Egypt’s heritage and cultural memory.

Last year, I visited the traveling King Tut Exhibition when it was hosted at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. The entry ticket was over thirty dollars; thousands flocked to the exhibition and patiently stood in line. The exhibition began by visitors entering a rather claustrophobic room with dim lights and smoke to watch a short video starring Hawass. After meandering through the exhibition, one was confronted with a colossal four-meter-tall image of Hawass in his Indiana Jones costume. Under the portrait were books by Hawass and Suzanne Mubarak, in addition to a collection of souvenirs. With no transparency and accountability, the safety of the exhibited items and total revenues earned from traveling exhibitions and Egyptian museums are in the hands of a few persons, in collaboration with companies such as Discovery and National Geographic. Egypt’s heritage has been monopolized, commercially packaged, and exported.

Egyptians are struggling to ensure the success of their revolution. When protesters returned to Tahrir on multiple occasions, after sectarian violence and after certain political powers, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, tried to dominate the political conversation, protesters in the square insisted: “We are here as Egyptians, not as Muslims, not as Christians, and not belonging to one party or another.” This singular Egyptian identity has been built on a shared and diverse historical heritage, including our ancient Egyptian heritage.

Egypt’s diverse museums are not only essential for Egyptians as potential recreational spaces but also as cultural nodes where citizens can contemplate the past, discover shared history, reclaim and reconfigure national identity, and develop critical views of the objects and the institutional settings in which they are placed. For a country at a transitional and critical moment in its history, museums can function as places of artistic and political inspiration. According to Colla, “During the early days of the French Revolution, Ancient Egypt served as inspiration for a secular symbolic order designed to replace the church.”

The plans to build the Grand Egyptian Museum are the product of Mubarak-era cultural policies. These plans and policies must end. At this time of revolution, such a major project that was designed against the economic and cultural interests of Egyptians should be halted and reconsidered. A new Museum of Egyptian Antiquities will emerge from this revolution, but it must be in the heart of Tahrir Square and made accessible to all Egyptians. 

24 comments for "The Case Against the Grand Egyptian Museum"


Great article, but the thing I would say is that Egypt needs more than one museum to display all of the artifacts. The current Egyptian Museum in Tahrir is very overcrowded in both the number of artifacts and the number of tourists. I hope the Tahrir square location will remain open because it is a great location, but the Tahrir museum needs to be renovated.

I am an American and I have a lot of complaints about the tourism experience in Egypt. I don't mind paying a different rate for a museum, but I do mind paying a different rate for a taxi and to enter the Gezira Club with my Egyptian friends. The biggest program is the touts that start harassing and swindling you as soon as you step off the plane, even at the airport! I know other people who visited Egypt also who did not enjoy their experience because of this. I think a tour group is probably the best idea.

It is true that far too much is behind walls in the Arab world, from museums to universities to beaches. Unfortunately this kind of thing is becoming increasingly common in the United States as well.

Jeff wrote on July 17, 2011 at 01:54 PM

Exceptionally well written. Handles every aspect of the topic and leaves no stone unturned. I am hopeful that the powers that (will) be take it into consideration. Egypt has a long way to go..

Aly wrote on July 17, 2011 at 06:11 PM

I agree with Jeff's comments above as my husband and I visited Egypt twice; in 2001 and 2000. Both times we traveled independently. The airport experience is the worst of any country we have been to. Syria in 2006 was much easier and we were never harassed. Oh, and as two of the few independent tourists waiting at the train station in downtown Cairo, we were subjected to hostile glares at my husband and men who would walk by and flagrantly stare at me up and down with disrespect. Even on the train, coming out of the restroom at night, I was harassed and propositioned by a local man. As for the GEM, I think that locating it away from the congested square is a good idea. My husband and I are not wealthy nor are we politicians, yet we have been friends with Zahi Hawass for over 12 years. He is ultimately dedicated to the antiquities service as well as being the best showman for his culture that Egypt will ever have. Amazingly, the protesters had 30 years in which to overthrow the Mubarak regime, which they d did not do until this year, and now they want change in a few short months? Egypt's tourism and revenue is declining because of the continuing protests and scapegoats such as Zahi can be found everywhere.

The truth? Corruption in Egypt is cultural and the people might as well confront their own willingness to put up with Mubarak while they try to find a quick fix to this incessant seething culture of chaos and ignorance which pervades Egyptian society. I am sure that the Pharaonic sites will be subjected to vandalism when the extremists are better established in government. I for one planned to return next year but will not be back, if ever.

Myra wrote on July 17, 2011 at 09:08 PM

Very interesting and revealing article, have some comments though... 1. It's common knowledge amongst ppl in the field that the grand Egyptian Museum is covered by some mysteries about it's finance and costs involving important figures in the old regime. An independent commission should check all past decisions and present recommendations as to the calm completion of the project. I think that it will be quite damaging that at this stage stoping the project. 2. Managing the Egyptian antiquities is a much bigger task and it's importance to humanity is much bigger than a tight xenophobic vision. 3. Decision process within the Antiquities administration should involve tourism, environmental,security, economic, international experts and and not left to any archeologist alone even if he has a nice hat. 4. For a better connection with the Egyptian population at large, and old idea from the 60' becomes today a good solution: having "satellite" museums all over Egypt covering all governorates

Tarik salama wrote on July 18, 2011 at 07:28 AM

Great article. The history of Egypt is still part of the colonial narrative. By the way, the Nubian museum in Aswan is, likewise, part of the Arab narrative. The Nubians are portrayed as part of history - very cute. The subject of the Nubian language is not even mentioned.

Jos Strengholt wrote on July 18, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Jeff and Myra, you seem to have entirely missed the point that this piece addresses. It is not about the comfort of tourists but the rights of Egyptians.

Myra, did you want a collective apology from the Egyptian people about your hassle at the airport?

The New Egypt is not in fact about you, Myra, and your orientalist assumptions about how culturally wrong Egyptians are. It is precisely these vulgar, self-entitled, and patently racist assumptions that you are subjecting us to, that are finally being overturned.

For this reason, Myra, it is not surprising that you are not coming back to Egypt. You will not be missed.

sawra wrote on July 18, 2011 at 12:57 PM

Wow, thanks (not) Jeff & Myra for assisting in continuing the Ugly American myth. Likewise I have been to Egypt and let me tell you, traveling into the USA isn't so great either. BUT, this article is not about being a tourist.

Traveler not a Tourist wrote on July 18, 2011 at 08:18 PM

An excellent example of how insightful Egyptian intellectuals can be and yet what they share with Sisyphus. The "cash cow" approach to the past in Egypt is revealed in the official treatment of cultural patrimony as a just another exploitable resource--one tour bus = x $; thus 100 tour buses = 100 x $. Visiting/working in Egypt since 1977, I have yet to see in the succeeding regimes of the SCA any substantial formal effort to integrate the past into the lives of the average citizen, much less to make it a cohesive "Egyptian" past. As noted in this article, anyone visiting landmarks one should see legions of school children; one doesn't in Egypt. Indeed, there is window dressing under Pasha Zahi but it always has seems more about a cult of personality with the past merely providing the fodder--it exists only as a prop to generate revenue.

Egypt's loss is a universal one. I cannot think of any single country which has more to offer our global society than Egypt: the antique past; a unique scientific culture under the Fatimids, fascinating colonial interactions throwing light on what nationalism & ethnicity means. I am not an expert, yet modern Egypt management of their patrimony seems a parody of capitalism & greed. Indeed, although we all want 'the good life' it currently seems that the vast sums raised by archaeology just disappear. R& D plus serious scholarship by young Egyptians--including how to integrate ALL the past into modern life--seems lacking. Once again, I've seen tremendious energy and erudition among young Egyptians, but one can't run a modern country using 19c Pasha logic. Until Egypt takes the responsibility for its past this view and these methods will continue. But it is an Egyptian problem which can only be solved by Egyptians. Let us all hope that wise decisions are made.

Jim Sibal wrote on July 18, 2011 at 09:23 PM

When I visited the Cairo Museum there were school children there taking notes and sketching in their notebooks. Things may not be exhibited there like in other world museums, but there was lots to see. The Nubian Museum in Aswan was wonderful and also newer. Enjoyed our trip there and the people were great from the Abu Simbal to the Pyramids, there were tourists and locals enjoying the sites. People are trying to make a living and will do it where they can. I didn't find them offensive at all. You can wheel and deal, it is all part of travel. We never felt unsafe and always felt appreciated to be there. This was in 2006. The Museums should be for the people and tourists.

R Wilson wrote on July 18, 2011 at 09:44 PM

Zahi Hawass is only interested in money, fame, and his own narcissism. He is considered a joke by real Egyptologists. He has no empathy for the masses, and no real interest in anyone other than Zahi.

Ann McCoy wrote on July 18, 2011 at 10:23 PM

Although I agree with many points in this excellent article I have to disagree with your point about Egyptians being excluded from their own history. I live in Luxor, and I often see school parties at the temples, in Luxor museum, as well as families visiting those sites. I think it is fair that they only have to pay a few pounds to visit those site, as such an admission charge is affordable to them - as the higher tourist prices is affordable to the tourist. To me, such visits show that there is a great interest in the general population in their history.

Stan Kurowski wrote on July 19, 2011 at 04:46 AM

Five years ago, I was bamboozled in a discussion for having queried the necessity of transferring the Antiquities Museum from its original location in Tahrir Square (formerly Ismail Pasha Square), anywhere, least of all to the proposed new and remote destination, further querying what would become of the original building after such a move. Needless to say, there were no rationale responses to either queries. The original building of the Antiquities Museum is an aesthetic gem of a facade, one of the few examples of an architectural accomplishment which complements what it houses. Rarely does one find a museum facade which accomplishes this.

Fatma Bassiouni wrote on July 19, 2011 at 05:02 AM

I will never be able to travel to Egypt so it is important to me to be able to access the media package that has become the nexus of Egyptian history and culture. That being said, I have always found Dr Hawass' personna arrogant and domineering. Sometimes dangerously so. This observation was played out and proven during the short lived Egyption Antiquities meets "Survivor" type TV show featuring Hawass and some sorely abused interns.

I personally am glad he is gone, and hope that in his place some sincere and less self-involved experts step up to recreate the mess he and the old regime have left behind. The Egyptian story is far too beautiful and important to be left to the machinations of the culture of personality and money.

KatS wrote on July 19, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Tahrir spirit didn’t reach MN Science Museum This Sunday I visited King Tut exhibit at MN Science Museum, St. Paul. As you approach the exhibit gate, the deep authoritative voice of Harrison Ford demanded , “to enter the golden world of the pharoses”, King Tut exhibit US tour, in our drive through culture gives some Americans a snapshots on, as the deep voice of Mr. Ford at the gate tells us, “the riches of royal life in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago”, the exhibit organizers done a great job of that, great lighting, reverent display of the King, to the point I almost tolerated the repugnant Zahi Hawass ‘the supreme council of Egyptian antiquity” as his title in the video flashes, grandstanding lectures and presentation, even his English lecture was subtitled which I think won’t go well with the darling of American media Mr. Hawass, the only spokesperson for Egyptian antiquity for last 20 years. exhibit lighting and the displays, the attention giving to every details is breathtaking, which incidentally much reverence than what Dr. Hawass himself is giving Egyptian antiquities back home, and specially at Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Which looks like a warehouse? At the end of the visit, as you are leaving the exhibit, you are forced through an IKEA style exit into their gift shop, no way out, only to find the 3000 of experience transformed into a Mickey Mouse experience, where the shelves fare full of King Tut paper masks, hats, plastic rings, T—Shirts and other marketing memorabilia. No deep voice talking to you at the gift shop, only young volunteers looking pretty and smiling. But what almost turned me to a Mummy instantly was, as I’m trying to avoid the commercialization of 3000 years history, I spotted at the front of the exhibit a live side poster of Dr. Hawass the modern Egyptian Pharaoh , with his famous American cowboy hat, standing next to a disclaimer that claims all funds generated from the exhibit will be giving to Suzanne Mubarak Children Museum. Only another take confirmed what I just read, Suzanne Mubarak. Have the folks at MN Science Museum heard of the Egyptian revolution and the Arab Spring, haven’t they realized that, Dr. Hawass and Miss Mubarak wear allegedly accused of looting Egyptian treasure and wealth, Miss Mubarak herself had to give back $25m that was donated to the Alexandra library by the international community that she pocketed into her personal account to be let go out of jail, she still under investigation. Dr. Hawass was sent to one year in prison, (bending appeal now), and is accused of using his close association with the Mubarak family to accumulate wealth and fame, according to most Egyptians he is an opportunistic at best and the dictator of Egyptian antiquities at worst, as FP magazine reported “ …In a separate scandal, several Egyptian publications are claiming that Hawass used priceless artifacts in the Egyptian museum’s collection for a photo shoot to promote his fashion line. The photos, seen here, show a model appearing to sit in Tutankhamun’s chair and leaning on frescoes”. There was a revolution in Egypt where millions of Egyptians went to street, put their lives on the line to red Egypt of 30 years of Mubarak dictatorial rotten regime, and here is the MN Science Museum in alliance with National Geographic bringing them back painful memories, ignoring the fact that King Tut Exhibit, the golden Egyptian antiquity treasure is brought to you by the biggest looters of Egyptian Antiquity., Dr. Hawass and Miss Mubarak. I sent a letter to the Science Museum PR department bringing their attention to this clausal misjudgment, they kindly and promptly responded and assured me they are working on changing the sigh and the names. According to Science Museum website, Dr. Hawass came to town to “ … presents… “Egypt Past and Present” on Friday, June 10, 8 p.m. at the Fitzgerald Theater, this is an insult to the millions of Egyptians who revolted and toppled the Mubarak’s regime, and his cronies one of which is Dr. Hawass. The Tahrir Square spirit toppled the Mubarak of of Egypt, we need to topple the Mubarak of Egyptian antiquities. I called on all Egyptians Americans and freedom lovers for protest rally during his presentation, ( lots of people contacted Science Museum to ask for cancelling the Mubarak of Antiquities presentation, their I call on MN Science Museum and national Geographic to bring Tahrir spirit to their Exhibit and give the same attention and respect they give to dead Egyptians to the new Egypt and live Egyptians. Update; On the morning of June 10th, the day of his presentation I received a call form Dr. Hawass himself the king of Antiquates ask if who could speak with me, he was very generous and personal, he inquired about the rally and our concern, I asked him if he would be willing to speak on camera for a one on one interview, he immediately accepted. I went to the Fitzgerald Theater where he is speaking that night. The security there was unprecedented, around and inside the theater, Mark Leach, Senior Vice President of Arts & Exhibitions Internationale introduced himself, he was edgy and nervous, he took me to a backstage dressing room, Dr. Hawass came a few minutes later, he was energetic and enthusiastic. I greeted him with worm smile, I conducted my interview while security in the room. Dr. Hawass was controversial, pompous, contradictory, his use of English still limiting, he uses language that at time inappropriate, something like “Those Ass whole} the interview is posted entirely on my YouTube channel, and in this blog. After the interview, he invited me to attend his presentation, I was given 3 VIP tickets in a private Box, I know I shouldn’t accept gift from my subjects, but this was the only chance to cover his presentation, the theater was almost full, people wear lining up to sign his book, he was introduced as a rock star, people were fascinated by his entertaining style, kids adored him, his grandiose, self promoting is astonishing, the 1:30 Hour presentation was mostly about himself, his discoveries,and his celebrity friends… that night, the old King Tut was overshadowed by the New King…. Zahi Hawass,

Ahmed Tharwat/ public speaker, Host Arab American TV show


Ahmed Tharwat wrote on July 19, 2011 at 10:50 AM

Fantastic article - and makes a great argument elucidating reasons for the dread I feel about the imminent Giza-based museum.

The only thing I differ with is the negative view of the current museum. Yes, it is shabby, with old displays, yellowed cards, dusty windows, priceless objects scattered all over - But this lends it so much charm for me! It IS a museum I love to visit again and again - because it is not pristine - you can reach out and touch the history. Go off season and you can avoid crowds and get lost in there spending precious time with the greatest splendours of the world in places where they have stood for the better part of a century. I love its chaotic old fashioned and messy layout. So authentic! That cluttered, dusty charm is one of my top reasons against the shiny new grand Museum - when the great antiquities will be buffed up and hidden in high tech cases with the latest lighting and security. ah well With the slow rate of development... perhaps it will NOT happen in our lifetime.

Laura Ranieri wrote on July 19, 2011 at 10:58 AM

Beautifully written! Thanks :))

Taliawi wrote on July 19, 2011 at 02:52 PM

Beautifully written! Thanks :))

Taliawi wrote on July 19, 2011 at 05:32 PM

Sadly overlooked in this article is that ALL the statues in the Egyptian Museum are an affront to Islam. Such statues are not allowed. Followers of the faith do not pay homage to these statues (the way the foreign tourists do).

Think Now wrote on July 21, 2011 at 12:44 PM

Dear Think Now, 1. Modern Egyptians and Tourists do not worship these statues therefore there is nothing affronting Islam as you claim. 2. The museum has more than just statues and the objects are of historical value and they are part of Egypt's cultural and intellectual history, Islam is all about learning, knowledge, and knowing one's own history. 3. Islam has been in Egypt for 1400 years and the statues have survived and even been protected, by Muslims. 4. You're understanding of Islam and your comfort with making such statements is the product of European-produced orientalist ideas that sadly are being blindly and unknowingly adopted by fundamentalists who think of themselves as true Muslims. Think again.

think again wrote on July 22, 2011 at 06:30 AM

Very well thought of, very well written, and some of the comments are exceptional, especially 'think again', 'Ahmed Tharwat' and I have to agree with Ann, Zahi is only interested in Zahi.

The tourism industry in Egypt is completely geared towards foreign tourists, and the Mubarak regime pushed for that with all their might. Yes, there were a couple of incidents that involved tourists, however, there has been the same kind of incidents all over the worlds and the people were never treated like second class citizens in their own countries. In Egypt, thanks to the policies of Mubarak and Hawas and friends, we Egyptians always came second to tourists, and were treated as such, especially at the Egyptian museum. Hopefully these days are gone and things are going to change.

Islam wrote on July 29, 2011 at 02:04 PM

You may think it is well written but it isn't very well informed. The "Grand Egyptian Museum" isn't replacing the old Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, that along with the Civilization Museum in Fustat are being constructed to relive the overcrowding in the Cairo Museum and move the objects that are in most danger to modern, climate controlled facilities. In order to proprely renovate the Museum in Tahrir Square, this has to be done first. Many museum professionals inside Egypt, and out, have participated in the planning and it is all done with the best interests of the objects at heart.

Peter Lacovara wrote on August 22, 2011 at 01:01 AM

I agree with Peter. In the light of recent events, particularly the burning of manuscripts in the Institute of Egypt, Tahrir Square is probably the most unsafe place in Egypt for all precious artifacts. A very good job the museum was fenced off recently! As far as I am aware it is not Egyptian taxes but foreign funding and the King Tut tours across the world (hence missing objects) that are paying for the new one.

Pat wrote on December 18, 2011 at 05:27 PM

The library was burned by those who saw no value in it to begin with, the ruling regime. The library, like the museums, was not made available to Egyptians to read, research, etc. The violence is perpetuated by the ruling regime as all evidence suggest and it is that regime that wants to move libraries and museums to gated government locations, because they rule Egypt with an inherited colonial mindset (that Pat and Peter exude of) which ultimately views the majority of Egyptians (who are poor and poorly educated because of government uber-capitalist policies) to be subhuman. Finally, the new museum is being built largely with loans that the Egyptian people will have to repay and any revenue from the King Tut belongs to the Egyptian people. The regime never valued culture for culture's sake (as it had been the case in earlier generations) instead, Museums and libraries are not insured while banks and bank buildings are.

not pat nor peter wrote on December 21, 2011 at 03:16 PM

Touché not pat nor peter! You are a little harsh – I have scant respect for the regime but credit where credit is due - the fact that museums and sites have been protected, sympathetically restored and respected proves the regime has had some value for culture, albeit financial or touristic (rather than exporting, selling or gifting items to other countries or dignitaries as some earlier generations did). No insurance policy or money could ever replace these items should they be lost, erode or be destroyed; hence the need for the new museum (or an alternative whilst an extension is built). Married to an Egyptian, I enjoy access whenever I want at a very affordable local entrance fee. My young Cairean nieces and nephews had never visited either the pyramids or museum until we took them, yet have always been immensely proud of their heritage (and they are from Imbaba – not Zamalek or Garden City). They most certainly are certainly not ‘subhuman’ although their thorough education could be a little less ‘learning by rote’ and more interactive!

Pat wrote on December 22, 2011 at 03:38 PM

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