The 26th General Conference of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), planned for 2022, will be the first to be held in the Arab region or in Africa since the organisation was established in 1946.
The theme will be “the discovery of identity”, and the holding of the conference in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria will help draw attention to the role of Africa and spark the development of museum studies and museum training on the continent as well as the establishment of international museum networks in the region.
Alexandria is one of the most marvellous cities worldwide, and it was the intellectual and cultural centre of the ancient world.
It is, therefore, all the more fitting that ICOM has decided to hold its 2022 meeting in the city since the Mouseion of ancient Alexandria, which included the famous library, was an enormous institution that was the home to performances of music and poetry as well as being a storehouse of texts.
This original Mouseion was also the source of the modern concept of the “museum”.
Alexandria was founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, and it was famous in antiquity for its many wonders, such as the Pharos, the Lighthouse, which was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Temple of Serapis, which was once part of the legendary Library of Alexandria as a place of knowledge.
Indeed, the library itself was once an integral part of what may have been the largest and most prosperous city in the world at the time. The city grew from a small port to become the grandest and most important metropolis in ancient Egypt.
It attracted many scholars, scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, artists and historians. In addition to its traditional culture, history, industry and natural science, the city of Alexandria was home to a wide variety of scientific, literary, philosophical and other institutions.
Its hosting of the 2022 ICOM General Conference will raise awareness of the worldwide significance of Alexandria’s numerous cultural properties and the importance of preserving them for future generations, while enriching international and local understanding of the value of the city and its heritage.
Alexandria today is home to a wide variety of museums. The National Museum contains thousands of artefacts that narrate the story of Alexandria and Egypt.
But there is also the Cavafy Museum, the Graeco-Roman Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Mahmoud Said Museum, the Aquarium Museum and the Royal Jewellery Museum, as well as the four museums in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the city’s modern library.
These are the Antiquities Museum, the Sadat Museum, the Manuscripts Museum and the Science Museum.
The ICOM General Conference will bring great benefits to the city of Alexandria, with experts and museum professionals meeting there for a week to exchange and discuss museum concerns.
It will provide the perfect setting for members to advance their understanding of the culture of Egypt, and it will raise the profile of research in Alexandria.
The needs of visitors will likely also lead to the creation of new businesses and commercial activities. Hosting more than 4,000 participants from all around the world will creates jobs in many different areas. With tourism comes hotels, restaurants, car-rental agencies, tour companies, service stations, souvenir shops, sports equipment rentals, and much more.
The year 2022 will also be the centenary of the discovery of the ancient Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun’s tomb, and the ICOM event should be tied to the commemoration of this great discovery.
The objectives of the ICOM General Conference are to meet the needs of its members, advance the work and value of museums, and strengthen Africa’s role as a key player in the museum world.
While Egypt has faced various challenges in recent years, conferences remain one of its most promising industries.
This conference points the way towards the future of Alexandria.
* The writer is head of the Central Projects and Services Sector at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Welcome to the Mouseion