In class on Tuesday, Ethan mentioned the construction of the new Grand Egyptian Museum that is currently being built in Giza. Reported to be one of the biggest archaeological museums in the world, this is obviously a big construction project (with a big price tag) designed to demonstrate Egyptian cultural heritage. However, I was curious as to how the common Egyptian population perceives Ancient Egyptian culture and its preservation, especially considering the political unrest and change in leadership in the past year.
In the article, “The Case Against the Grand Egyptian Museum”, the author, Mohamed Elshahed recalled how he was treated with suspicion when he attempted to enter The Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, even though he was Egyptian and his friend (an American) was able to enter without any problems. He explains that although the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities aims to preserve Egyptian cultural heritage by protecting artifacts from theft, their means of accomplishing this goal is by limiting access to Egyptians, but promoting tourism to visitors from other countries.
Thus, many Egyptians do not particularly benefit from the existence of the current museums in place. One could argue that the promotion of tourism leads to government funds that can support the general population, but it seems that the building of a $550 million museum might hurt the Egyptian people rather than help them.
First, the museum is located in Giza – far away from the general population. Elshahed also states that a lack of public transportation would also limit the number of Egyptians who could visit the museum.
Second, this is not a purely Egyptian project, either. Japan has loaned approximately $350 million for this project, a loan that future generations of Egyptians will have to pay. In addition, the contractors who are building the museum – Heneghan Peng – are from Dublin, Ireland.
Third, this project was born under the leadership of Hosni Mubarak, a president who was ousted after repeated protests during the Arab Spring of 2011. It’s possible that the Egyptian people may want to forget the Mubarak era, and that includes projects such as the Grand Egyptian Museum.
I realize that this blog post became more of a “reasons why the Grand Egyptian Museum should not be built”, but I think it’s very important to think not just about the preservation of Ancient Egyptian cultural heritage, but to also look at it’s importance to the Egyptian people. If the Egyptian people lose touch with their cultural heritage, how are we to be sure that future finds will be protected in the future?