Egyptian Museums One Year After the Revolution
The civil unrest that took place across the Arab world from early 2011 onwards, spreading from Tunisia and also affecting Egypt and Libya, led to the collapse of long-standing political regimes in the countries involved and in some cases to prolonged disorder or civil conflict. In Egypt, institutions, including museums and heritage sites, have been at the risk of looting or other damage. While some objects were stolen at the Egyptian Museum, the Egyptian public showed outstanding commitment to the protection of the heritage of Egypt and, for example, formed a human chain around the museum. Egyptian conservators have quickly been mobilized to treat some of the documents that were damaged in the recent fire at the Institute of Egypt.
Acting in response to media reports of damage to archaeological sites in Egypt and to a limited break-in on 28 January during the Revolution itself at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, a meeting of IGOs and NGOs experts was convened at UNESCO on 15 March 2011, chaired by the Director-General, in order to discuss emergency assistance measures to Egypt to help the country deal with any threats to cultural heritage sites or institutions. Following the meeting, two UNESCO missions were sent to Egypt to discuss the situation with the Egyptian authorities and to assess any damage. The first of these missions, a joint UNESCO / ICOM mission, visited the country from 21 to 25 March. The second, a joint UNESCO / Interpol mission from 3 to 13 May.
As a direct result of recommendations of the joint UNESCO / Interpol mission two closely linked projects are being launched with co-funding from the Federal Office for Culture of the Swiss Confederation. The key objective of the first project ‘Museum disaster preparedness and risk mitigation in the event of man-made disaster or conflict’ is the development of risk preparedness and security management strategies for Egypt’s museums as a tool for the efficient protection of cultural heritage in Egypt n the event of man-made disaster or conflict. The second project is entitled ‘Capacity-building training courses and awareness-raising activities on the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property in Egypt’. To ensure the most comprehensive implementation of UNESCO’s 1970 and UNIDROIT's 1995 Conventions, the project places emphasis on the need for appropriate national legislation and international cooperation, the training of police and customs, as well as preventive measures to inventory and protect cultural objects be they from archaeological remains or otherwise.
UNESCO also provides ongoing support to museum professionals in Egypt through participation in meetings and training programmes, in particular in relation to the Nubia Museum in Aswan and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo. These two museums reflect the long-standing cooperation between UNESCO and the Egyptian cultural heritage authorities for almost 50 years now. The first museum of civilization in Egypt, the NMEC is located on the archaeological site of El-Fustat in Old Cairo, overlooking the Ain El-Seera Lake. The Museum was designed by Egyptian architect El Ghazzali Kosseiba. The exhibition spaces are being designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. The NMEC will showcase Egyptian civilization from prehistoric times to the present day, using a multidisciplinary approach that highlights the country’s tangible and intangible heritage. UNESCO is working with the NMEC team to explore the NMEC’s potential for democracy building and its role as a leading educational institution.
The Nubia Museum in Aswan was opened to the public in November 1997 and has won widespread praise for the quality of its design and collections. It houses finds made during excavations carried out as part of UNESCO’s International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia, threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. Besides showcasing many of the more than 3,000 objects found during the excavations, the Museum serves as a focal point for Nubian history and culture, its collections presenting the history of Nubia from prehistory to the present day.
In January 2011 UNESCO also inaugurated two special exhibitions entitled ‘Illuminating Interrelations and Engaging Dialogues: Museums as a Civic Space for Developing Intercultural Skills’ promoting the Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations in Egypt and Syria in collaboration with the respective partners, the National Museum of Damascus under the authority of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria and the Nubian Museum in Aswan, Egypt. The two museums highlighted ‘icons’ from their collections, which individually and collectively portray the intercultural exchange in scientific, religious and artistic forms from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia through the Nile basins. The historical importance of these objects is immense as they show the vibrant cultural interconnectivity that has existed since Prehistory and still actively represents the roots of cultural identities of the regions. This pilot phase was funded by the Spanish Government, within the framework of UNESCO’s partnership with UN Alliance of Civilizations.