Since he was appointed as minister in charge of Egypt’s antiquities in March 2016, Khaled El-Enany has established an ambitious roadmap to solve the ministry’s budgetary problems, develop its infrastructure, revitalise the development of archaeological sites, safeguard antiquities, resume archaeological excavations, and raise the cultural awareness of the public.
Today, some 60 days after being re-appointed as minister of tourism and antiquities, he describes the challenges ahead and his vision to revive international tourism, attract more investment, encourage and promote tourism to Egypt, build up Egypt’s tourist branding as well as open the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), complete archaeological projects, and link cultural tourism to coastal and maritime tourism.
El-Enany’s re-appointment to the joint portfolio had not been unexpected. His track record as minister of antiquities will allow him to manage Egypt’s tourism and antiquities portfolios more efficiently, as well as develop plans to attract more tourists to Egypt, promote the country’s diverse destinations, and remove any obstacles that stand against achievements in the tourism sector.
His fast rhythm has enabled him to complete the archaeological projects that were on hold over the past four years, as well as to encourage more archaeological excavations and announce new discoveries, with these attracting the attention of the world to Egypt and its unique heritage and distinguished civilisations.
Since taking office, El-Enany has embarked on tours of different archaeological sites such as the Virgin Mary Tree in Matariya, the Hanging and Saint Sergius Churches and the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo, the Gabal Al-Teir Monastery and the Domes and Mausoleums of the Prophet Mohamed’s family members in Minya, the Hurghada Museum, the Karnak and Luxor Temples and the Avenue of Sphinxes, the GEM, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), and the Baron Empain Palace in Heliopolis in order to inspect the work being achieved.
He has also travelled to Hurghada, El Gouna, Sharm El-Sheikh and Luxor to visit tourist destinations and meet tourism investors to hear their requests, solve their problems, and engage them to think with the ministry outside the box in providing ways to improve the infrastructure at Egypt’s archaeological sites and tourist destinations with a view to encouraging and promoting tourism as well as attracting investment to the country.
El-Enany has met with more than two dozen foreign ambassadors to Egypt and pioneering tour-operators and international tourism companies to strengthen cooperation as a means to spruce up tourism to Egypt and encourage new promotional campaigns and programmes to increase the number of tourists visiting the country. Among them have been the ambassadors of Britain, France, Greece, Cyprus, Japan, Belarus, Singapore, Kazakhstan and Ireland, as well as the US Tour Operators Associations, the TUI Group, and others.
Yet, in his office in Zamalek, everything is as it has always been. Nothing has been changed. Replicas of ancient Egyptian and Islamic art masterpieces decorate several corners, and an ibis bird decorates the central entrance while the walls are covered with ceramic gravures depicting coloured foliage patterns. A replica of the well-known ancient Egyptian painting of the Medium Geese decorates the office entrance wall, while a large map of Egypt showing the country’s archaeological sites is on the wall at the office’s far end.
The side tables are decorated with golden replicas depicting the lioness god Sekhmet, the justice goddess Maat, and the boy-king Tutankhamun astride a panther and hunting on a papyrus skiff. A bust of queen Nefertiti decorates a large side table. El-Enany’s desk is almost empty except for a few files, his computer, i-pad, small notebook and mobile phone.
He welcomed Al-Ahram Weekly with his usual friendly smile to talk about how much he has achieved and what still remains outstanding.
‘I am confident in the success of this newly established joint ministry, especially in the light of the attention that the political leadership and government are giving to the tourism and antiquities sectors’
STARTING OUT: “I started my duty as minister of tourism and antiquities by visiting sites and destinations in Egypt as much as I could in order to see them with my own eyes and because field visits are much better than reading reports in the office,” El-Enany said.
He said that tourism and antiquities complement one other and are two faces of the same coin. Egypt is very distinguished because of its unique heritage and rich civilisations.
“I am confident in the success of this newly established joint ministry, especially in the light of the attention that the political leadership and government are giving to the tourism and antiquities sectors,” El-Enany said, adding that the government had decided to merge the ministries at a time when several archaeological mega-projects are taking place such as the Grand Egyptian Museum, the NMEC, and the Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor.
This is the second time that the ministries have been merged, as this happened in 1962 and was extended to 1966 before they were separated.
The support of the government continues as a Ministerial Committee for Tourism and Antiquities (MCTA) has been created for the first time to discuss issues and solve problems related to tourism. It is headed by the prime minister and includes representatives from seven ministries, including tourism and antiquities, the environment, local development, culture, finance, health and urban housing, and civil aviation, as well as representatives from the Ministry of Interior and the chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation.
During its first meeting, El-Enany announced that the committee had approved a recommendation suggested by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to establish a permanent committee to issue operational licences for hotels.
“In an attempt to link cultural tourism to coastal and maritime tourism, new flights connecting the Nile Valley to the Red Sea are operating,” El-Enany said, explaining that in collaboration with the ministry of civil aviation a once-a-week flight linking Luxor to Sharm El-Sheikh had been started on 20 February after a stop of several years.
To encourage bookings, the ministry offered the passengers of the first flight a free visit to queen Nefertari’s tomb on Luxor’s west bank that is normally priced at LE1,400. Another flight linking Luxor to Hurghada is also in the works.
The UK has removed its flight ban to Sharm El-Sheikh, and the operator TUI has resumed flights from London to Sharm El-Sheikh as a result. EgyptAir is to operate a new flight from Gatwick south of London to Sharm El-Sheikh soon, and later this year the company Easy Jet will operate a new flight to Egypt.
“Several more decisions have been taken to promote tourism to Upper Egypt during the summer,” El-Enany said, adding that under the slogan “Spend your summer in Upper Egypt,” a discount of 50 per cent on all tickets for foreigners and Luxor Pass holders had been provided for visitors going to archaeological sites in Qena, Luxor and Aswan during the months of July and August.
Another half-price discount has also been provided for foreign students studying in Egypt.
NEW INITIATIVES: Realising the importance of tourism in Egypt, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has come forward with an initiative to support tourism in Egypt until the end of 2020, in a bid to boost job opportunities and stimulate other industries.
The initiative, in the amount of LE50 billion, is designed to take advantage of the current expansion of tourism and to use it to stimulate development.
A decision to digitise the revenues of the ministry, allowing electronic reservations for tickets to museums and archaeological sites by using the Internet and mobile applications, should help to reduce queues at the ticket counters of museums and archaeological sites. Replicas and archaeological books will also be sold via the Internet.
In the coming weeks, several archaeological sites will be opened after the completion of restoration work, among them the Djoser Step Pyramid in Saqqara, the Baron Empain Palace in Heliopolis, and the Hurghada Museum, which is the first museum to be established in partnership with the private sector.
The museum and its antiquities will be under the full supervision and administration of the ministry of tourism and antiquities, and the private sector has provided the building and equipped it according to the ministry’s requirements. The private sector will also manage the facilities and services for visitors.
Also mentioned by the minister was the transport of the ancient Egyptian royal mummies and their sarcophagi from their current display at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Fustat, where preparation work is underway to ensure that the halls are ready to receive them. Roads and squares on the path of the royal mummies are under development to ensure that the transport of the objects takes place without incident.
The transport includes a collection of 22 royal mummies and 17 royal sarcophagi from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties that will be transported to the NMEC, including 18 mummies of kings and four of queens. The mummies include those of kings Ramses II, Seti I, Seqnenre, Tuthmoses III, and queens Hatshepsut, Meritamun, the wife of king Amenhotep I, and Ahmose Nefertari, the wife of king Ahmose.
Tahrir Square is also under development, and an obelisk of Ramses II has been restored, reassembled, and re-erected at the square, while four ram-headed sphinxes will also be installed.
The ministry will continue to develop archaeological sites to be more tourist-friendly, El-Enany said. Several archaeological sites have been developed by installing signboards, sunshades, benches and walks for the disabled.
The signboards do not only include details of a site or a museum and their opening and closing hours. They also include guides telling visitors how to preserve the site or the museum by not touching its artefacts, not disfiguring the monuments by writing on them or breaking them, and keeping the place clean by disposing of rubbish properly.
The ministry is now working hard to promote the opening of the GEM, with a campaign now being planned in order to prepare its grand opening in the last quarter of 2020.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.