Egypt draws ire with artifacts’ move to busy Tahrir Square

The fast traffic on Tahrir road, leading to the Qasr El-Nil bridge, guarding with lions’ sculprtures, on Dec. 24 in Cairo. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 31 December 2019

Egypt draws ire with artifacts’ move to busy Tahrir Square

  • Experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the four ram-headed sphinxes and an obelisk
  • Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world

CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.
Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the four ram-headed sphinxes and an obelisk, currently en route to their new home in Tahrir Square.
Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has weighed in to say that similar obelisks are displayed in Western cities, according to a statement late Monday.
But Dr. Monica Hanna, a heritage expert, said Egyptian artifacts in cities like London, Paris and New York are themselves endangered by being outdoors.
“The sphinxes are made of sandstone, they are part of the dry environment in Luxor, when they would be moved to Tahrir Square with all the pollution, they will deteriorate as a result of the reactions with the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air,” Hanna told The Associated Press.
She and a member of parliament are part of a lawsuit to block the artifacts’ move, filed recently by a local rights group.
Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the government “will do everything” to protect the artifacts.
Tahrir Square was the epicenter of Egypt’s so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011. The square also contains the Egyptian Museum.
The decision to move the artifacts as part of a larger renovation of Tahrir Square was taken without debate in parliament. The controversy only surfaced after archaeologists objected.
Since coming to power in 2013, El-Sisi has touted a number of megaprojects aimed at rebuilding and expanding infrastructure. Those include an expansion of the Suez Canal and a new Egyptian museum near the Giza Pyramids.
A centerpiece of the new museum is a towering statue of Ramses II. It once stood in a busy square near Cairo’s main railway station, but was removed in the 1990s due to preservation concerns.
Waziri, the antiquities chief, said the four sphinxes are not part of the famed avenue of sphinxes in the city of Luxor. They were among several located behind the first edifice of the temple of Karnak.
The obelisk was recently moved to Cairo from the San el-Haggar archaeological site in the Nile Delta, the ministry said.
But Hanna, the heritage expert, stressed that the obelisks in Western capitals had been moved during the colonial era. “We really had no say in their shipment.”


Egyptian deaf-mute coffee shop shows all signs of success

Updated 46 sec ago

Egyptian deaf-mute coffee shop shows all signs of success

  • “I had hope and faith in achieving the dream of owning a coffee shop specialized in hosting the deaf and mute and where the staff would be deaf and mute as well.”

CAIRO: An Egyptian cafe for deaf and mute people is quietly showing all the signs of success.

Staff and customers at Wadi El-Nile coffee shop, in the Upper Egyptian city of Qena, use sign language to communicate and place orders.

Printed guides are on every table showing how to sign simple words and phrases to help visitors, whether or not they are deaf-mute.

And activities in the cafe are no different than in any other coffee house, with customers playing backgammon and dominos, enjoying hot and cold drinks, and smoking shisha.

Wadi El-Nile’s owner, Mustafa Khairat, said that the success of his establishment had proved that deaf people could be integrated into society.

“I had hope and faith in achieving the dream of owning a coffee shop specialized in hosting the deaf and mute and where the staff would be deaf and mute as well. They would communicate with customers using sign language, and that is what happened,” he added.

“Deaf people represent a huge segment in Egypt. They used to meet in several coffee shops in Qena governorate but when this one opened with deaf as well as other people attending, it turned into a destination for the deaf from other cities and villages. They meet here and they feel it is their home,” said Khairat.

“We printed papers with sign language as a guide and put them on every table. They have simple sign language signs written in letters to help customers if they are finding it difficult communicating with a waiter or other deaf and mute customers.”

Statistics issued by the UN in 2019, showed the number of deaf and mute people in Egypt to be around 7.5 million out of a population of 100 million, and coffee shops to cater for them have sprung up throughout the country.

In the city of Alexandria, Rady’s cafe in the neighborhood of Mansheya, is better known to Alexandrians as the mute’s coffee shop. The Brotherly Association for the Deaf, which is located in the same area, holds regular meetings there.

And last year, Mohamed Arafat opened his Candy restaurant in Cairo, which employs a number of deaf-mute staff.