Political battle rages around Egypt's antiquities as protesters shut down tourist sites

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 27 Sep 2011

Head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Abdel Fatah, insists that his resignation is final and he cannot manage the demands of protesters, as Prime Minister Sharaf tries to convince him to stay on

protestors at Al-Abassiya building

Since the revolution started last January, Egypt’s antiquities community has been rocked by protests, criticism and reshuffles of top personnel at the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the powerful governmental body which oversees all of Egypt’s archaeological sites.

Today, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf announced that current secretary general of the Council, Mohamed Abdel Fatah, would be granted the authority of a minister; nonetheless, the chaos continues as Abdel Fatah insists that his recently announced resignation will not be withdrawn, and protesters complaining of years of corruption and mismanagement at the Council continue their sit-in.

Following the announcement today that Abdel Fatah would be offered the full authority of a minister, in order to better proceed with the Council’s archaeological and administrative work, protesters blocked the entrance to the Council’s offices in Abbassiya, switching off the electricity and preventing the employees from entering. They also expelled the building’s security guards and shut the iron gates.

In Aswan, the situation is much worse. Protesters closed the doors of the Nubian museum and the Abu Simbel temples to prevent an official visit celebrating World Tourism Day from entering.

Atef Abul Dahab, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department, told Ahram Online that upon his arrival at the building, more than 4,000 archaeologists were blocking the entrance, leading the Council staff to call both the civil police and the military police. However, according to Dahab’s account, protesters refused to move unless their demands were met, and all efforts were made to appoint the 14,000 temporary employees who had been employed for periods of more than eight years.

Back in Cairo, Abdel Fatah did not go to his office today and insists that his resignation will stand. He has sent an apology to the prime minister, blaming his failure to continue on medical reasons. “I cannot be at the forefront of all this pressure and these problems, which are a severe risk to my life,” Abdel Fatah wrote in his apology. “They threw me into a bad spot,” he asserted. He argues that he cannot solve any of the problems of the Council’s staff for the time being because of lack of money. “How can I appoint temporary staff and new graduates when I don’t have enough money for that?”

So far, Sharaf has not responded to the letter and the protesters remain in place at the Abbassiya building.

Short link: