The incredible story of Egypt’s Museum of Islamic Art

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There are halls containing coins and weapons, and another section devoted to items used by Egyptians in their daily lived throughout history. (Supplied)
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There are halls containing coins and weapons, and another section devoted to items used by Egyptians in their daily lived throughout history. (Supplied)
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There are halls containing coins and weapons, and another section devoted to items used by Egyptians in their daily lived throughout history. (Supplied)
Updated 26 June 2019
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The incredible story of Egypt’s Museum of Islamic Art

  • The museum has a library that contains collections of rare books and manuscripts in ancient and modern languages
  • The Museum of Islamic Art is one of the largest museums of Islamic archaeology in the world

CAIRO: With more than 100,000 antiquities from India, China, Iran, Arabia, Syria, Egypt, North Africa and Andalusia, the Museum of Islamic Art in Egypt is the largest institution of its kind in world.

The museum, located in the Bab Al-Khalk area in the heart of Cairo, is also the largest educational institute in the world in the fields of Islamic archaeology and Islamic art. It is renowned for its diverse collection, which includes works in metals, wood and textiles, among other mediums.

The idea of a museum in Egypt dedicated to Islamic art and archaeology began during the rule of Ismail Pasha (the grandson of Mohammed Ali Pasha), who was khedive of Egypt and Sudan from 1863 to 1879. In 1869, court
architect Julius Franz Pasha installed a collection of Islamic archaeological artifacts in the courtyard of the then-abandoned Al-Hakem Mosque.

The collection grew when the Committee for the Preservation of Arab Antiquities was established in 1881 and was adopted by the Governor’s Mosque. Space was limited however, and a decision was made to construct the current purpose-built museum building in Bab Al-Khalq, which was initially named the House of Arab Antiquities. The foundation stone was laid in 1899, construction was completed in 1902 and the museum opened on Dec. 28, 1903. The number of items in the collection had grown by them from about 111 in 1882 to about 3,000.

The name was changed to the Museum of Islamic Art in 1952 at the start of the July 23 Revolution. The artifacts were displayed in 25 halls, divided up according to their age and materials. On Aug. 14, 2010, former President Hosni Mubarak officially reopened the museum following an eight-year project to develop and renovate it. The work was supported by the Aga Khan Foundation and carried out with the assistance of specialists from France.

On the morning of Jan. 24, 2014, the residents of Cairo felt the shock waves from a large explosion. A car bomb had exploded close to the city’s Security Directorate. Four people were killed and many buildings were badly damaged, including the Museum of Islamic Art. Many of the exhibits were damaged or destroyed, especially fragile glass pieces.

On Jan. 18, 2017, President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Khalid Al-Anani reopened the museum after three years of repairs and restoration work. New exhibits were added to replace those damaged or destroyed.

“The Museum of Islamic Art is one of the largest museums of Islamic archaeology in the world thanks to its rare archaeological artifacts related to Egypt’s Islamic heritage,” said Elham Salah, head of the museum department at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

A tour of the museum is a hugely rewarding experience. The right side of the museum is dedicated to artifacts from the Umayyad era through to the end of the Ottoman era. The left side includes galleries dedicated to Islamic art from Turkey and Iran (Persia). It also includes halls devoted to science and engineering, along with tombstones from different eras and countries.

There are halls containing coins and weapons, and another section devoted to items used by Egyptians in their daily lived throughout history. There is also a displays of artifacts from the era of Mohammed Ali Pasha, which marked time of major transformation for the country.

Museum tour guide Aya Ahmed said that the museum also has a library on the upper floor that contains collections of rare books and manuscripts in ancient and modern languages, as well as a collection of books about Islamic and historical monuments. She added that there are also calligraphic works, including copies of the Holy Qur’an from the Ottoman era, which were written in a very precise way using brushes made of hair from a horse’s tail.


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 July 2019
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.