Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Gold and Red Mercury | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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On Monday, 31 January [2011], I entered the Egyptian Museum for the first time since the events of Friday, 28 January. I had been given special approval by the Egyptian armed forces to enter the museum, along with a group of foreign journalists and television crews, in order to send an important message to the world, and that is that the Egyptian Museum is fine. Throughout the days of the revolution, I continued to stress that as long as the Egyptian Museum is fine, Egypt would be fine.

We entered the Egyptian Museum – along with a group of commandos – through the museum’s back door; the door through which the tourists exit past the newly-established gift shop. In a previous article I explained how this gift shop was one of the reasons why the Egyptian Museum remained intact; because when the thieves entered the gift shop they saw all of this “gold” right in front of them, and so they stole these replica artifacts in the belief that they were real, and that the gift shop was the Egyptian Museum.

Once I found myself inside the museum, I rushed ahead, with journalists and correspondents behind me, checking the halls and display cases to reassure myself that Egypt’s priceless artifacts and treasures were all present. It was at this moment that Egyptian Museum Director Tarek al-Awadi appeared to inform me that the office of the [then] President [Hosni Mubarak] was on the phone. I answered the phone and was told that I must immediately report to the presidential headquarters in order to take the constitutional oath of office as Egypt’s first ever Minister of Antiquities. I asked the official what was going on, and was told that “the state has decided to establish a new ministry for antiquities.” This was an acknowledgement by the state, albeit a late one, of the value and importance of Egypt’s antiquities. This represented the first time in Egyptian history that an independent Ministry for Antiquities has been established, as antiquities have long remained a mere department within the ministries of public affairs, national guidance, or culture. Archeologists all across Egypt rejoiced at this move, which is long overdue, because this will allow us to protect Egypt’s priceless antiquities, and also because this is something that we have long called for.

Although I was convinced that it would be a mistake to accept this post during such a difficult time in Egyptian history, I had no other choice but to accept, because this represented a national duty that it was my responsibility to perform to the best of my ability. Indeed, the same applied to former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq [who was also appointed by then-president Mubarak during the last days of the regime]. Shafiq is a truly respectable and noble figure, who is loved by many, and who was successful in restoring discipline to “Egypt Air”, and improving the Egypt’s airports to rival the most beautiful airports in the world.

Therefore I headed to the presidential palace in order to take the oath of office. On my way there, I continued to think about what had happened to the artifacts in the Egyptian Museum. I wished I had been able to complete my tour of the museum, to see the situation with my own eyes and reassure myself about the safety of the Pharaonic treasures. In my new position, I was able to organize a date for the reopening of the Egyptian Museum, as well as the repair of all artifacts that had been damaged in the break-in, from thirteen display cases. These included a wooden sarcophagus, which thieves tried to open in the belief that it contained an ancient mummy. However when they found that this sarcophagus was empty, they left it, which shows that they were only interested in two things, namely gold and red mercury.