The Minister of Antiquities has no vision and must resign, president of the Egyptian Antiquities Association and Tamarod coordinator Ahmed Shehab has said.
Shehab explained in a telephone interview that the group had printed 10,000 petition forms and have filled 4,000 so far, but are planning to reach 30,000. Those who signed the petition are employees in the ministry and fresh archaeology graduates. The group is intending to send three copies each of the petition results to Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, the cabinet and the presidency.
He added: “When the minister was part of Dr Hisham Kandil’s cabinet, there were 48 protests against him at the time. Dr Mohamed Ibrahim was later replaced by Dr Ahmed Eisa, but Dr Hazem El-Beblawi just re-appointed him despite all the negative feelings towards him”.
In response to inquiries on reasons for their demands, Shehab said: “Dr Mohamed Ibrahim hasn’t dealt with the ongoing antiquities looting from sites all over Egypt; nobody knows the actual numbers of pieces in storage. The demands of the employees of the ministry as well as the fresh graduates are not met, and there is no plan [nor intention] to resolve all these issues”.
A second cause for unrest is that the situation at the ministry has generally been dire. Employees have been complaining about health insurance, which the ministry has been gradually degrading until employees were awarded only public insurance. The employees also complain about their wages, as they claim that the average wage of an antiquity restorer is only EGP 500, while other privileged employees receive wages that reach thousands of pounds. Employees attempted to confront the minister, whose response, according to them, was that the ministry has insufficient funds and the security state in Egypt is worsening.
The state of Egypt’s antiquities have been under scrutiny after the country’s most popular icon, Dr Zahy Hawas, was removed from his position after the 25 January Revolution because of his relationship with ousted President Hosni Mubarak, controversy regarding the nature of his earnings and his management of the ministry. He was also sentenced to be removed from his position and pay a fine of EGP 1,000.
The controversy around Egyptian antiquities at the time of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and the rise of political Islam reached its peak as archaeologists and enthusiasts of Egyptian heritage feared that Egyptian monuments would face the same fate of negligence and intended sabotage that those in ancient civilisations have suffered from in regions were political Islam was dominant. The covering of a statue in the street by Al-Nour Party during a conference in Alexandria in 2011 has raised concerns about the matter.
A group called “Egypt’s Heritage Task Force” shed light on the dire situation of Egyptian antiquities last September when they gave a presser attended by a number of individuals, including activists, architects and politicians. The campaign aimed to raise awareness about the state of Egyptian antiquities, which are looted by organised armed groups, as well as the illegal construction of residential buildings and cemeteries on sites of national heritage in Dahshour, Malawy and El-Lisht.
After the presser, the looting did not stop, but illegal and irresponsible activities with regard to heritage sites have continued. For example, the use of cars inside the narrow Al-Miuz Street is ruining the ancient mosques in the area, not to mention that, lately, it was discovered that Egyptian antiquities are being sold online.
The Ministry of Antiquities was not available for comment.