Minister of Antiquities faces strong opposition to his reappointment

Nevine El-Aref , Saturday 20 Jul 2013

Mohamed Ibrahim has unveiled updated plans for preserving and continuing to develop Egypt's heritage, amid demands from archaeologists and ministry workers to press for his dismissal

Ibrahim at his visit in Matariya

Although the reappointment of Mohamed Ibrahim to Egypt's antiquities portfolio in the interim government headed by caretaker Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi was not welcomed by archaeologists, Ibrahim is enthusiastic and has mapped a plan to continue what he previously started in efforts to protect Egypt's heritage and spruce up archaeological work as well as amending unpopular decisions taken in his previous tenure.

In his office in Zamalek, Ibrahim sits at ease. He is not a stranger to his position as he previously held the same post in the government led by Kamal El-Ganzouri and continued to fill the position in Hisham Qandil's government. However, in the Cabinet reshuffle on 7 May, Ibrahim was replaced by Ahmed Eissa, dean of the Faculty of Archaeology at South Valley University. Now he is back.

"Tightening security measures at archaeological sites countrywide in order to halt encroachments on them made over the last two years tops all priorities," Ibrahim told Ahram Online. He added that 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.

"Training MSA (Ministry of State for Antiquities) personnel in the use of state-of-the-art security equipment in order to thwart attempts to violate archaeological sites could be another solution to tighten security measures and prevent further encroachment," he suggests.

Ibrahim hopes to expedite construction, development and restoration work that was put on hold over the last year in an attempt to attract more tourists to Egypt, the numbers of which severely declined. This includes construction of the Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking the Giza Plateau, the National Museum for Egyptian Civilisation in Old Cairo's Fustat district, restoration of Alexandria's Greco-Roman Museum and the development project of Giza Plateau and the Manial Palace restoration project.

New sites will be officially inaugurated, such as the Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor, and the Hanging Church in Old Cairo.

Ibrahim also promised to solve the problem of the appointment of fresh graduate archaeologists in the MSA stratum. "I will exert all efforts to solve this problem," asserted Ibrahim, adding that he would call on all concerned authorities in the government to find a legal solution to the issue. According to the newly issued Law 19 of 2012, and the previous prime minister's decision, it is prohibited to appoint new employees to any section in the government.

On his first day at work, Ibrahim met with all MSA section heads, along with all directors of archaeological sites and museums, to hear their comments and suggestions about work conditions.

Ibrahim also embarked on a number of field tours, including the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir, the Salaheddin Citadel and the Matariya archaeological site, in order to inspect their current status and assess the requirements of sprucing up restoration works being carried out, as wel as tightening security measures.

During his visit to Matariya, Ibrahim inspected the area of the Hathor Temple, struck by fire two weeks ago, and ordered a sum of LE30,000 to remove all the debris that led to the blaze. He also decided to increase the number of lighting lamps in the area, as well as to provide wooden kiosks for guards around the archaeological site.

At the Citadel, Ibrahim visited the newly inaugurated Police Museum and ordered the installation of a lift in order to facilitate visits by the disabled and elderly.

Meanwhile, at the Egyptian Museum Ibrahim gave the go-ahead to resume the museum's development project, started in his previous tenure and put on hold because of budgetary issues. The development plan includes reopening the museum's gift shop and cafeteria.

Nonetheless, many archaeologists and employees of the MSA reject Ibrahim's reappointment and have announced plans to stage protests in front of the ministry.

The independent syndicate of MSA employees give the Cabinet a list of demands, on top of which are sacking Ibrahim and putting into action Law 116 of 2012 that stipulates the appointment of fresh graduate archaeologists and temporary MSA employees as well as the establishment of a committee to probe financial corruption among contractor companies that have worked in restoration projects at archaeological sites.

Omar El-Hadari, head of the independent syndicate of MSA employees, said that archaeologists will sign a "Rebel Petition" calling for the sacking of Ibrahim if the Cabinet does not remove him within a week.

El-Hadari continued that according to the plan, if the Cabinet does not meet the archaeologists' demands, the signed petitions would be handed over to Interim President Adly Mansour in September.

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