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Visitors taking in an ancient copy of the Qur'an at the Museum of Islamic Art. Photo: Amr Nabil/AP.

Egypt’s Cultural Initiatives Resume Six Years After the Country’s Revolution

The 2011 revolution in Egypt during the Arab Spring put a halt to many of the country’s major museum projects. It seems, however, that Egypt has recently picked up where it left off, reports Hannah McGivern and Aimee Dawson of the Art Newspaper. The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, or NMEC, which started construction in Cairo’s al-Fustat neighborhood in 2004 and still remains unfinished, opened a temporary exhibition space in February. Heavily damaged by a bomb attack from a nearby police station, the Museum of Islamic Art reopened in January. The Grand Egyptian Museum, GEM, plans to unveil its first exhibition of objects from the Tutankhamun collection next year—the museum was originally scheduled to open in 2011.

Though there is a great deal of enthusiasm to see these institutions up and running, there is little in the way of money to fully support them. During a speech for the opening of NMEC’s provisional space, the country’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, linked the success of the country’s museums to the government’s efforts against terrorism. Tourism in Egypt has been suffering since 2011, causing more financial strife. Khaled al-Anani, Egypt’s antiquities minister, said that about $110 million is needed to reopen twenty provincial museums that have been shut down since the revolution.

Foreign governments have stepped in to help the country. Japan provided a $300 million loan to GEM in 2006—another was given to the museum last fall for $450 million. The UAE gifted $26.6 million to the Islamic museum in 2015, in addition to funds given prior. Tarek Tawfik, the director of GEM, wants to create an “international friends” plan for funding as well as an endowment for the museum. GEM is hoping that the exhibition of its five-thousand-piece Tutankhamun collection will bring in about five million visitors annually (thus far, only a fraction of the collection has been made available to the public at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square). The GEM, which will have more than 305,000 square feet of exhibition space, will be the world’s biggest museum dedicated to a single culture when it opens. Since it began construction in 1992, however, its budget has nearly doubled, from $550 million to $1 billion. It is hoped that the museum will be ready and open by 2023, the one-hundred-year anniversary of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

A positive side effect of the revolution is the Egyptian people’s reignited enthusiasm in its own culture. Visitor numbers have swelled since the Islamic museum’s reopening this year. However, Egypt will need to “re-establish faith in the country [after] a very tough few years,” said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. But she is glad that “Egyptians [have become] more interested in where they came from and what they have.”

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