Neglect and mismanagement are accusations that permeate any discussion of Egypt’s cultural heritage.
When confronted with the crumbling buildings in Islamic Cairo, the apparently chaotic arrangement of artifacts in the Egyptian Museum, or piles of garbage and plastic bags whirling around the pyramids, the situation may indeed appear hopeless. The debacle surrounding the damage and shoddy restoration of King Tut’s mask at the Egyptian Museum seemed to cause a collective sigh in Egypt last year – no one was terribly surprised.
While there’s a degree of truth to such a narrative, it completely ignores the individuals and institutions tirelessly working to develop projects that are drastically improving Egypt’s cultural heritage management. Many archeologists, Egyptologists, art historians, conservators, and educators, working both within and without the Ministry of Antiquities at various archaeological sites and museums, are making a significant impact, yet their efforts are largely overlooked by the media and the public.
Most of these projects are small and focus on limited but substantive change. Ongoing efforts to digitize a collection, make a data set accessible to scholars, conserve a building, or implement an individual site management program may look insignificant if they are seen without the full context. Each of these projects develops new ideas and makes them work. This new generation of archaeologists and conservators are slowing effecting huge changes to the way Egypt cares for its rich heritage.
My monthly series, launching tomorrow on Mada Masr, will explore Egyptian cultural heritage projects that are making an impact, and highlight individuals who struggle daily to implement new strategies and develop sustainable heritage practices amid challenging circumstances. Examining how these individuals and their projects succeed will elucidate the current state of heritage management in Egypt — and inevitably touch on the lasting impact of the colonial histories of these fields, as well as differential access to archaeology, funding, jobs and education.