Monday, July 18, 2016

Short Story: Challenges For Antiquities

Three months after being appointed Egypt’s minister of antiquities, Khaled Al-Enani tells Nevine El-Aref about the challenges ahead.

Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enani began his tenure in Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s second cabinet in March. His mission has been to solve the ministry’s budgetary problems that have been likely to prevent suspended works from being completed, whether the construction of new museums or the development of existing ones.

Improving both the ministry’s infrastructure and personnel is another task, as is working in collaboration with the ministries of tourism, civil aviation and investment in order to provide the means to improve the infrastructure at Egypt’s archaeological sites and tourist destinations, to encourage and restore tourism, and to attract investment to the country.

Other pressing issues are the removal of encroachments on monuments or in archaeological site buffer zones, something that occurred during the breakdown of security after the 25 January Revolution, and the recovery of looted or illegally smuggled artifacts, whether from illegal excavations or incidents in the aftermath of the revolution.

Al-Ahram Weekly spoke to Al-Enani in his office decorated with replicas of ancient Egyptian and Islamic art to find out how much he has achieved and what challenges remain.

The walls are covered with ceramic gravures in foliage patterns. A replica of the well-known ancient Egyptian painting of the Meidum Geese decorates the office entrance wall, while a large map of Egypt showing the country’s archaeological sites is on the wall at the far end. The side tables are decorated with replicas of the lion god Sekhmet, the justice goddess Maat, the boy king Tutankhamun astride a panther and hunting on a papyrus skiff, and two large replicas of Islamic vases painted with foliage motifs and geometrical designs.

What are the challenges you have faced since taking up your post in March?
I have had six main challenges to deal with: the lack of budgetary resources; the postponing of archaeological projects, especially in the museums sector; the lack of highly qualified staff, especially in international law; the encroachment on archaeological sites after the 2011 Revolution as well as illegal excavations; problems from subterranean water at sites and the lack of documentation of Egypt’s monuments; and finally weak infrastructure at archaeological sites and museums and the lack of archaeological awareness among the population as a whole.

What were the causes of the ministry’s budgetary problems?
The main problem goes back several years, as the ministry’s budget has been mainly dependent on ticket fees from archaeological sites and museums all over the country. There has been no investment policy to feed its annual budget. This policy was sufficient earlier when the tourism industry in Egypt was growing and the number of tourists had reached its peak. But with the decline in tourism and the increase in the number of the ministry’s employees the ministry has entered financial deadlock.

The ministry has lost around LE1 billion of its annual income, which decreased to just LE275 million in 2015. Its debts since 2011 have reached almost LE6 billion, as it has had to borrow from the ministry of finance in order to pay its employees and for postponed projects. Bazaars and cafeterias at archaeological sites and museums have closed their doors because of the decline in tourism. This has meant that the ministry has lost a good deal of its income.

How are you managing the ministry’s budgetary problems?
To help solve these problems, the ministry took decisions such as decreasing the rental of bazaars by up to 70 per cent and cafeterias by up to 60 per cent as well as offering facilities to franchise-holders to help them pay their debts. The ministry has succeeded in recovering 40 per cent of its debts, instead of zero per cent five years ago. Reopening the bazaars and cafeterias has also provided job opportunities to youngsters, as well as providing facilities to tourists at archaeological sites.

The ministry discounted its publications by 70 per cent until 2012, giving 25 per cent reductions on those published after 2012. This is designed to encourage reading among people in general and increase their archaeological awareness. I have other ideas in mind in order to provide unconventional ways of financing and I think that this could be achieved through planned investment and management services at archaeological sites such as printing the logos of organisations on the backs of tickets, finding sponsors to organise exhibitions, and publishing ads on the ministry’s Website.... Read More.

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