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Renovating the Egyptian Museum
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 06 - 2019

Over more than a century, the iconic Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo has attracted scholars and visitors from all over the globe with its legendary history, treasured collection, and distinguished architectural style, to the extent that it has long been considered the “mother of Egyptology”.
However, time has taken its toll on the museum, which has suffered from a lack of investment in its physical structure, exhibitions, research and programming activities. Several development efforts have nevertheless been implemented over the years, including small-scale interventions in the galleries.
With the construction of the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), slated for opening in 2020, and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), now partly open, the Ministry of Antiquities has made the transformation of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square a top priority, including its mission, displays, and role in research, education and public engagement.
To achieve this goal an EU-funded project called “Transforming the Egyptian Museum of Cairo” was launched early on Sunday in the garden of the Egyptian Museum in collaboration with the ministries of antiquities and investment and international cooperation and the European Union.
The event was attended by 40 ambassadors, cultural attachés and heads of foreign archaeological institutes, along with archaeologists, journalists, photographers, media anchors and top government officials.
The EU is supporting the project through a 3.1 million Euros grant. The three-year project will bring a new standard of excellence to the renaissance of the Egyptian Museum, including through the work of a consortium of five European museums with their associated technical expertise.
The consortium includes the Egyptian Museum in Turin, the British Museum in London, the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection in Berlin, the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Rijks Museum van Oudheden in Leiden, along with the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) and the Italian Istituto Centrale per l'Archeologia in Cairo.
Ambassador of the EU to Egypt Ivan Surkoš underlined the importance of the project, which symbolises the excellent cooperation and coordination between the EU and Egypt in a common endeavour to protect and promote the cultural heritage.
“European excellence in terms of knowledge and capacity will help in bringing up the Egyptian Museum to the highest standards of museology in the world,” Surkoš said, adding that it would be a unique collaboration between the Egyptian Museum and Europe in the fields of museology, Egyptology, archaeology, archaeometry and cultural heritage management.
The project seeks to support the museum in creating a strategic vision for it, addressing collection management and conservation, audience engagement, public programming and communication, income generation and facilities management. This should ensure the promotion of culture, the preservation of cultural heritage, and the broadening of intellectual and cultural boundaries and international cooperation, contributing towards building a sense of community and strengthening civil society.
Friederike Seyfried, director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, described the museum as the “mother of all Egyptian museums” for Egyptologists.
“Nothing can be compared with the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, and this will never change,” she said, adding that “newly built museums are beacons of modern achievements in museology, but the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir reflects the history of our science.”
Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany repeated a promise that the new Grand Egyptian Museum and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation would not replace the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, which still houses more than 163,000 objects. It should get “all the support and attention it deserves,” he said.
“The time has come to shed new light on the museum's rich collection, upgrade its physical structure, and improve its research and programming activities to reach the highest international standards,” El-Enany told attendees at the ceremony.
He underlined that Egypt was spending heavily on building new museums and restoration and preservation projects, and more than 25 countries were leading archaeological missions in Egypt to preserve and study Egyptian sites.
Nevertheless, “I am deeply saddened to see every now and then some Egyptian antiquities put on sale on the international market,” El-Enany added. “We have succeeded in repatriating thousands of Egyptian objects that were smuggled out of Egypt illegally, and we will continue to do so,” he said.
El-Enany appealed to the ambassadors, international organisations such as the UN cultural agency UNESCO, and the attendees to join efforts to stop the looting, selling, and illicit trafficking of antiquities, and to work closely to protect and preserve the cultural and archaeological heritage for future generations.
Meanwhile, the consortium involved in the Egyptian Museum project will assist in the adoption of significant new display areas at the museum and in the outlining of a detailed strategic vision for the future. Each partner will bring specific experience and skills to the project, ensuring that the Egyptian Museum benefits from best-practice approaches in global museology.
The project will also advise on new approaches to the collection's exhibition, and it will provide the platform for an application to UNESCO to recognise the museum as a World Heritage Site. One focus will be on the redisplay of the entrance galleries on the ground floor, together with the drafting of a masterplan and the redisplay of treasures from the Royal Tombs of Tanis.
The three-year EU-funded project is the first phase of a larger project that will see significant upgrades to the museum. It will improve the visitor experience to attract more national and international visitors and to foster the economic impact of the museum. Further economic benefits will be derived from the implementation of income-generation programmes by the Ministry of Antiquities.
A subsequent phase of the project will see further display areas transformed and significant upgrades to the physical fabric of the museum.
The transformation of the Egyptian Museum into a world-class institution will help to emphasise the shared and common histories of different communities within Egypt. This project thus also holds relevance for the future of the wider Mediterranean, Middle East, North African and European region, thanks to its innovative approach that prioritises cultural awareness and programming.

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