Egypt short of cash to build its Grand Museum

Friday 04/09/2015
Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty speaks during a news conference at the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, Egypt, on August 25, 2015.

Cairo - Egypt is finding it hard to raise funds to complete construction of its larg­est museum, which is be­ing built in north-western Cairo.
Construction of the Grand Egyp­tian Museum started in 2005 and was expected to be completed in 2015. However, ten years after work began, the museum is still under construction because of a lack of funds.
“The government is facing a very tough trouble, one related to the necessary finance for construct­ing the museum,” said Abdel Halim Nour Eddin, the former head of the state-run National Council of An­tiquities. “Now, the government is addressing some donor countries to contribute the needed funds but the money is not easy to come by.”
When museum work started in 2005, construction was estimated to cost $800 million. The Egyptian government contributed about $38 million. Donor states, such as Japan and Italy, also contributed funds.
However, only half the funds needed are available, according to Tarek Sayed Tawfik, general super­visor of the museum.
When completed, the museum is expected to be one of the largest in the world. Constructed on a space of 470,000 square metres, the struc­ture is to include the main museum, a conference centre, auxiliary build­ings, including restaurants, cafés and parking lots and a large land­scaped area.
The Grand Egyptian Museum is expected to house 100,000 arte­facts, including 3,300 pieces from 18th dynasty King Tutankhamen. The halls of the museum will show­case 50,000 pharaonic pieces with the remaining objects kept at mu­seum warehouses.
Some important artefacts are ex­pected to be moved from the Egyp­tian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the new museum. The Egyptian Museum was inaugurated in 1902. It has a neo-classic style, housing more than 140,000 artefacts.
With hundreds of thousands of visitors every year — the highest number of visitors to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in a single year reached 2.5 million before 2011, ac­cording to the Antiquities Ministry — overcrowding has become a prob­lem at the building. The museum’s location in crowded Tahrir Square makes securing tourists difficult.
Worse, the museum was the scene of looting during the 18-day uprising in early 2011.
Now, Egyptian officials pin their hopes on the new project to be an international heritage hub that showcases archaeological wonders made more than 7,000 years of civi­lisation.
It is 2 kilometres from the Giza Plateau, which was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. It is situated between the plateau and the modern part of Cairo.
Feasibility studies of the project estimate the number of visitors to the museum and the Giza pyramids at 5 million every year. In 2020, the number of museum visitors is ex­pected to rise to 8 million, which will create demand for hotels, rec­reational parks and cultural centres.
In 2006, Egypt moved the mam­moth statue of King Ramses II from Ramses Square in central Cairo to the museum site in an event that re­ceived local and international media attention. The statue’s journey was part of a government campaign to promote the Grand Egyptian Mu­seum.
A board of directors, which in­cludes several well-known inter­national figures, is expected to be responsible for managing the Grand Egyptian Museum when its con­struction is completed, according to Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al- Damati. Sayed says the international board of directors will also be used in marketing the museum.
At the site of the project, con­struction workers seemed to be as committed to completing their work on schedule. Yellow helmet-wearing engineers instructed workers while trucks carried construction materi­als to and from the site.
Inside completed sections of the museum, archaeologists renovated about 4,000 threatened artefacts, according to Essa Zein, the head of the Renovation Committee of the Antiquities Ministry. He added that 23,500 artefacts have been moved from the Egyptian Museum to the new facility.
Outside the fence of the site a digital billboard read: 450 days re­maining (before inauguration of the museum). However, Nour Eddin, who was the first supervisor of the Grand Egyptian Museum years ago, does not believe it. He expects work on the museum not to be finalised before 2018. “The problem was that Egypt started the construction of two museums at one and the same time, namely the Museum of Civi­lisation in southern Cairo and the Grand Egyptian Museum, in north-western Cairo,” Nour Eddin said. “The two projects have squeezed the budget of the Antiquities Minis­try dry of cash.”
Damati conceded the financial problems facing the completion of the project during a press briefing recently.
He said while work has not stopped at the museum, the lack of funds has reduced its intensity.