Egypt’s economic crisis weighs heavily on heritage, says minister

Egypt's economic crisis weighs heavily on heritage, says minister

 Egypt’s Antiquities Minister says that the country can no longer afford to keep its museums open let alone search for ancient buried treasures because of the economic crisis.

Tourism, a mainstay of the economy, had been hit hard since the 2011 revolution that overthrew veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Many of Egypt’s renowned historical sites which run from the pyramids at Giza to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor were “suffering a decline in foreign visitors’’.

“We have over 20 museums that have been closed down since the January 25 revolution and we do not have the resources to run them,” Khaled al-Anani told Reuters in an interview.

His ministry is meant to be self-sufficient and not supposed to receive funds from the state budget.

In 2010, the ministry made 1.3 billion Egyptian pounds (146.40 million dollars) a year; in 2015, income was down to 275 million pounds.

“That is a little over 20 million pounds a month, I have to pay 80 million a month in salaries alone.’’

Anani said that without a revival in tourism, none of his new projects such as the introduction of year-long museums and heritage sites passes or extending opening hours would have the desired effect.

According to him, reopening the Pyramid Complex of Unas built for Pharaoh Unas, the ninth and final king of the Fifth Dynasty in the mid-24th century B.C. will also not have the desired effect.

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That pyramid had been closed since 1998 for fear of overcrowding and Anani reopened it in May.

Still, Egypt planned to partially open the Grand Egyptian Museum, an ambitious planned museum of ancient Egyptian artifacts that would be the world’s largest archaeological museum in 2017.

This is only possible because the 248 million dollars needed came from Japanese loan years ago.

Financial woes also affected excavation attempts, which had seen a steep decline since 2011.

Other issues included a lack of international law experts at the ministry to help claim back Egyptian artifacts that were smuggled to other countries or claimed by the country’s former colonial masters.

There was also the need to create a centralised database of antiquities to combat smuggling, efforts for which had stalled since 2000.

Before Anani was appointed in March, his predecessor supported British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves’s investigation of the hypothesis that a secret chamber, believed to be the lost burial site of Queen Nefertiti, may lie behind King Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Nefertiti died in the 14th Century B.C. and is thought to be Tutankhamun’s stepmother.

Confirmation of her final resting place would be the most remarkable Egyptian archaeological find this century.

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An analysis of radar scans done on the site last November had revealed the presence of two empty spaces behind two walls in King Tut’s chamber.

Former minister Mamdouh al-Damaty said in November that there was a 90 per cent likelihood of “something behind the walls’’.

Reeves believed the mausoleum was originally occupied by Nefertiti and that she had lain undisturbed behind a partition wall.

The most minor of incisions in the wall could wreak damage to an inner chamber that may have been hermetically sealed for so many years.

However, “I did intend to open up the tomb, but only if a second radar scan showed 100 per cent that there were empty spaces which it did not,’’ Anani said.

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