Sunday, February 14, 2010

Remaking Egypt's shelves

Egypt Today (Michael Kaput)

With grand plans for a museum in every governorate, the SCA is looking to spring history from its tourist trap.

The building that houses the office in charge of the nation’s museums at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) downtown is grand but half-finished. With some work, it could be truly magnificent. Whether that work gets done anytime soon is anyone’s guess. The same could be said about the SCA’s colossal undertaking to give the country’s staggering collection of artifacts a new showcase.

Flush with ticket revenue from international exhibitions and local tourist sites, the SCA is in the midst of a project that will see 20 new museums covering every governorate, and long-closed favorites re-opening to the public over the next five years. More than just cash cows feeding on tourist dollars, however, the new museums are also hope to reconnect Egyptians with their own heritage, in their own neighborhoods.

“Ten years ago, we didn’t have any [major] museum, only the Egyptian Museum,” says Mohamed Abdel Fattah, head of the SCA’s Museum Sector.

Indeed, the nation’s most famous museum is also its most infamous, with many visitors complaining about poor lighting and labels, crowded displays and no air conditioning. Renovation projects have added new display spaces for the royal mummies, temporary exhibitions and a revamped outdoor museum in the back garden. In January, a permanent children’s museum opened on the premises. The fact remains, however, that the nation’s collection of Pharaonic artifacts alone had outgrown the Egyptian Museum almost as soon as it opened in Tahrir Square in 1902.

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