Bibliotheca Alexandrina celebrates restored hieroglyphics-Arabic and French dictionary

Amira Noshokaty , Tuesday 8 Aug 2023

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina launched a restored copy of Egypt's first Hieroglyphics/Arabic/French dictionary that was handwritten by renowned Egyptian Egyptologist Ahmed Kamal Pasha (1851-1923) after a two-and-half-year restoration project.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina celebrates the centennial of renowned Egyptologist Ahmed Kamal Pasha. Photos by Amira Noshokaty


The launch at the library coincided with its celebration of Ahmed Kamal Pasha's centennial anniversary.


" His name was Ahmed Hussein Ahmed, yet he was known by the name Kamal (meaning perfection) because he reflected perfect ethics and knowledge," noted Abdel-Hamid Kamal, the grandson of Ahmed Kamal Pasha at the seminar.

The day-long event featured a mini public exhibition of his rare books, as well as several lectures that focused on the rich and valuable efforts of Ahmed Kamal who was the first Egyptian curator of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Often known as the father of Egyptology, Ahmed Kamal was a pioneer for local museums and published newspaper articles for common Egyptian readers on their ancient heritage.

He was a keen promoter of Egyptians learning and practising Egyptology and managed to open the first school of Egyptology for Egyptians. Among his students was renowned Egyptologist Selim Hassan.

A passionate researcher and an excellent translator, Kamal spent over 20 years writing a first-of-a-kind Hieroglyphic/Arabic/French dictionary.  

Kamal’s dictionary was completed 100 years ago, earning him the title Pasha, awarded by King Fouad.

However, he died shortly afterwards in 1923 before the dictionary could be published.

In fact, the dictionary was never published at the time because Egyptology was dominated by foreigners who did not respect the work of natives.

“Ahmed Kamal Pasha studied in Egypt’s first school of antiquities, a university founded by the German scientist Heinrich Carl Brugsch in 1869. The school specialized in languages, among them hieroglyphics. He took a liking to the subject and became the first Egyptian Egyptologist,” Egyptology icon Faiza Heikal told Ahram Online.

“Unfortunately, they were resistant to letting Egyptians into the field of Egyptology during the colonial era. Kamal suffered because of that but was finally accepted by Maspero (Charles Maspero, 1846-1916, a French Egyptologist and director general of excavations and antiquities in Egypt)," added Heikal.

"Ahmed Kamal started establishing schools, museums and writing books as well as the splendid dictionary, which we are celebrating today. This dictionary was never published in his lifetime, unfortunately, because it was written by an Egyptian. They did not want an Egyptian to take the credit for such a major work, " Heikal concluded.

Unique and similar

What is so unique about the restored dictionary is the fact that it was the first direct translation from Hieroglyphics to Classic Arabic and then to French.

All speakers at the seminar emphasized this fact which is not common knowledge. It serves immensely in the transmission of cultural knowledge and it will help researchers compare the new dictionaries with the first one that was written exactly 100 years ago.

Fatma Keshk,  an Egyptologist and founder of Egyptology in Arabic initiative, also weighed in on the Pasha’s significance.

"Ahmed Kamal was a grand figure of the first generation of Egyptian Egyptologists who managed to publish the immense knowledge he acquired on par with foreign Egyptologists of his time. This was unprecedented and defined the field of Egyptology at large," said Keshk.  

The restoration process

“It took us almost two years and a half to digitalize, chemically restore as well as finish the research at the Egyptian National Library and Archives, " explained Ahmed Mansour, Deputy Director of the Writing and Scripts Center at Bibliotheca Alexandrina to Ahram Online.

"We are currently working on introducing him and his legacy. Professor Azza Ezzat has participated in several conferences such as that held at the British Museum and the upcoming Egyptology conference, which will be followed by several lectures at Egyptian universities. Then we will publish a digital copy online," he added.

"Today, I feel I have accomplished the commemoration of my grandfather, who was neglected for 100 years," Kamal's grandson Abdel-Hamid said.

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