New antiquities minister aims to 'preserve, protect' Egypt heritage

Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 9 May 2013

Egypt's newly-appointed minister of state for antiquities, Ahmed Eissa, unveils strategy for protecting and developing country's ancient landmarks and heritage



At his office in Cairo's Zamalek district, Ahmed Eissa, Egypt's newly-appointed minister of state for antiquities, sits before a huge wooden desk, reviewing papers and welcoming well-wishers.

"My goal is to work with ministry employees to preserve and protect Egypt's heritage – be it ancient Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Coptic or Islamic – while putting existing archaeological works in order, rejuvenating projects that have been put on hold, and upgrading the skills of archaeologists and curators," Eissa said.

Speaking to Ahram Online, the new minister stressed that, before he could begin his work in earnest, he would first have to review all work currently underway as well as all work that had been temporarily halted. "I have many ideas, but I must fist review everything going on at the ministry before I can realise them," he said.

One of his first priorities, he explained, was to tighten security at archaeological sites countrywide in order to halt encroachments on them made over the last two years.

"This can be achieved in collaboration with Egypt's tourism and antiquities police by providing better-trained and better-armed security guards at all archaeological sites and museums, and by training ministry personnel in the use of state-of-the-art security equipment in order to thwart attempts to violate archaeological sites," the newly-appointed minister said.

He went on to assert that the current lack of security "not only harms our heritage, but also impedes ongoing archaeological work and stops tourists from visiting Egypt."

"Young and junior archaeologists are also one of my top priorities," Eissa asserted. He promised to sit down with all young archaeologists affiliated with the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) and listen to their grievances and suggestions. He also said he planned to reassign the MSA's junior archaeologists to different museums and archaeological sites around the country, depending on their particular abilities and needs.

Eissa called for the rehabilitation of the MSA's administrative cadres and a rethink of the goals of the ministry's administrative council in order to better handle the current workload.

Eissa also promised to review the MSA's financial situation and expedite construction, development and restoration work that was put on hold over the last year. This includes construction of the Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking the Giza Plateau, the National Museum for Egyptian Civilisation in Old Cairo's Fustat district, and restoration of Alexandria's Greco-Roman Museum.

He also plans to send antiquities exhibitions abroad with a view towards guaranteeing their preservation and safety.

Eissa will soon meet with all MSA section heads, along with all directors of archaeological sites and museums, to hear their comments and suggestions about work conditions. Eissa also plans to embark on a number of field tours in order to become acquainted with the relative status of each archaeological site.

Eissa is the fifth antiquities minister since Egypt's January 2011 revolution and the first to be specialised in Coptic and Islamic archaeology since 1992. All previous antiquities ministers were specialised in ancient Egyptian antiquities.

The 53-year-old minister was born in the Upper Egyptian Sohag governorate. After graduating from Assiut University with a Bachelor's Degree in Islamic Archaeology, Eissa earned his Master's Degree from Cairo University where he specialised in Coptic art and architecture.

He later obtained a doctoral degree from Assuit University, where he focused on the influence of Islamic art on Coptic Orthodox church architecture in the Upper Egyptian Qena and Aswan governorates from the Ottoman period to the reign of Mohamed Ali.

Eissa first worked as an antiquities inspector in the Coptic and Islamic antiquities section at the Egyptian Antiquities Authority, which was later renamed the Supreme Council of Antiquities and which is currently known as the MSA.

In 1993, Eissa became a teaching assistant at Egypt's South Valley University. In 2011, he became dean of the university's archaeology faculty. He is reportedly a member of Egypt's moderate-Islamist Wasat Party.

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