Look ahead 2023: How the Grand Egyptian Museum aims to reclaim the country’s ancient past

Special Look ahead 2023: How the Grand Egyptian Museum aims to reclaim the country’s ancient past
The Grand Egyptian Museum complex in Giza, Cairo will house the country’s ancient treasures. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 January 2023

Look ahead 2023: How the Grand Egyptian Museum aims to reclaim the country’s ancient past

Look ahead 2023: How the Grand Egyptian Museum aims to reclaim the country’s ancient past
  • After delays, opening slated for 2023 will help Egypt to revive its pandemic-hit tourism industry
  • New museum represents symbolic cultural victory for a region whose ancient history was looted

LONDON: Hit by endless delays, political upheavals and, most recently, the curse of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Grand Egyptian Museum has been a long time coming.

But 2023 is the year that the modern complex billed as the world’s largest museum devoted to a single civilization is finally due to open, just in time to help Egypt to revive its badly missed tourism industry.

The opening of the building will be more than an opportunity to kickstart the country’s battered economy. It represents a symbolic cultural victory, not only for Egypt but also an entire region whose ancient history was looted by generations of Western adventurers.

No one knows how the young pharaoh Tutankhamun met his death at the age of 18, around 3,344 years ago. Theories — none of them proven — include malaria, a chariot accident, a bone disorder and even murder.

One thing we do know, however, is that when the “boy king” approached his untimely end, he would have done so comforted by the belief that he and the many possessions that would be buried with his mummified body would soon be on their way to the afterworld, and a glorious afterlife spent in the company of the god Osiris.

But that eternal journey was rudely interrupted in 1922 when the British archaeologist and part-time antiquities dealer Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb.

The only place to see all 5,400 of the artifacts in the Tutankhamun collection from now on will be at the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo. (AFP)

Like all Western archaeologist-adventurers of his time, Carter’s plan was to ship the bulk of the treasures back to Europe and sell them to museums.

That this plan was par for the course during the heyday of heritage looting posing as scientific research is attested to by the countless thousands of artifacts, statues, funerary goods, coffins, sarcophagi and mummies from ancient Egypt that today can be found scattered about the Western world, in museums large and small.

In Carter’s case, however, such was the significance of the find that, even though Egypt was a British protectorate at the time, Egyptian officials managed to foil his plans — more or less. In recent years it has emerged that Carter and his colleagues managed to smuggle various items out of Egypt, which they sold to a number of museums in the West.

In 2010 Egypt welcomed the return by the Metropolitan Museum in New York of 19 items taken from Tutankhamun’s tomb. “These objects,” said Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Met at the time, “were never meant to have left Egypt, and therefore should rightfully belong to the Government of Egypt.”

Regardless, since the 1960s, it seems as though the Tutankhamun collection has spent more time out of Egypt than in, circling the world in a series of endless tours.

The first touring exhibition, “Tutankhamun Treasure,” was seen in 24 cities in the US and Canada between 1961 and 1966. Between 1961 and 2021, much of the treasure spent 30 years outside Egypt — three decades during which generations of young Egyptians were denied access to some of the most totemic elements of their heritage.

The existence of the long-awaited Grand Egyptian Museum will bring this disgraceful state of affairs to an end.

All 5,400 of the artifacts entombed with the king more than 3,300 years ago, including the iconic golden mask, have finally been reunited for the first time since they were unearthed by Carter in the Valley of the Kings.

Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. 

From now on, the only place to see them will be in the correct place — in Egypt, at the Grand Egyptian Museum.

This is a museum like no other. Covering a site of almost 500,000 square meters, the building offers visitors a spectacular panoramic view of the nearby pyramids of Giza.

Besides the headliner, Tutankhamun, the museum houses more than 100,000 artifacts from Egypt’s rich past, dating from prehistory through pharaonic times to the Greek and Roman periods. An 11-meter statue of Ramses the Great dominates the museum’s vast, light-filled entrance atrium, which was built around the imposing 83-ton granite figure.

In the West, museum curators mutter about the superior abilities of Western institutions to protect the heritage of other countries, which, by inference, they deem incapable of doing so.

Egypt, however, has undisputed, and indeed unrivaled, expertise when it comes to protecting and conserving artifacts from its past. A conservation center at the museum has been operational since 2010, having made its mark with Tutankhamun’s outer wooden coffin, which has undergone eight months of careful preservation.

The British Museum argues it is “a museum for the world” — a place where the entire history of the evolution of global civilization can be seen by the whole world, all in one place.

That is fine, provided one lives in London, or has the means and inclination to travel there. But for most Egyptians, that is not an option.

English egyptologist Howard Carter (1873-1939) working on the golden sarcophagus of Tutankhamun in Egypt in 1922. (Apic/Getty Images)

In 2003, the last time Egypt made a determined but ultimately futile attempt to persuade Britain to part with the Rosetta Stone, one of the icons of Egyptian heritage, the British Daily Telegraph remarked sniffily that “if the stone were to be moved” — at that stage, to the Cairo Museum — “it would be seen by far fewer people than is the case today, about 2.5 million visitors a year, compared with the 5.5 million who visit the British Museum annually.”

Again: How many of those 5.5 million are Egyptians, and how many more people from around the world might travel to Egypt to see the stone if it were in the Grand Egyptian Museum?

The opening of the museum comes a century since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and 200 years since the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, the ancient stele that held the key to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

In the past, Egypt has made repeated attempts to have the Rosetta Stone returned. Looted by Napoleon’s troops during his Egyptian campaign of 1798 to 1801, it was seized from him in turn by the British and shipped to the UK in 1802, where it was presented to the British Museum by King George III.

In 2003, Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass, then director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo and a future minister of antiquities, told the British press that “if the British want to be remembered, if they want to restore their reputation, they should volunteer to return the Rosetta Stone because it is the icon of our Egyptian identity.”

In 2020, Hawass renewed his campaign, broadening Egypt’s claims to include the return of the bust of Nefertiti from the Egyptian Museum of Berlin, and the Zodiac of Dendera and several other pieces from the Louvre in Paris.

The pressure on international institutions to do the right thing increased in December, when Germany returned to Nigeria 21 artifacts that were among thousands looted by British troops from the west African kingdom of Benin 125 years ago. More than 100 of the so-called Benin bronzes are also held by the University of Cambridge, which last month also agreed to return them to their homeland.

Egypt’s former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass, who campaigned for the return of Egyptian artifacts. (AFP)

However, the bulk of the Benin artifacts are in the possession of the British Museum, which says it has “excellent long-term working relationships with Nigerian colleagues and institutions,” but nevertheless has so far refused to return the items. 

The museum also shows no sign of willingness to part with its Egyptian artifacts. In addition to 38 items “found or acquired” by Howard Carter of Tutankhamun fame, it holds more than 45,000 other artifacts from ancient Egypt — of which fewer than 2,000 are on display.

In February 2020, Dr. Khaled El-Anany, minister of tourism and antiquities, said Egypt was “in direct negotiations with the British Museum and other museums,” insisting that “any objects which left Egypt in an illegal way will return to Egypt.”

As ever, the museum plays its “museum of the world” card.

“At the British Museum, visitors can see the Rosetta Stone alongside other pharaonic temple monuments, but also within the broader context of other ancient cultures, allowing a global public to examine cultural identities and explore the complex network of interconnected human history,” a spokesperson for the British Museum told Arab News.

An 11-meter statue of Ramses the Great at the Grand Egyptian Museum. (Supplied)

The British Museum also points out that it is one of four European museums collaborating with Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to renovate the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square as part of a €3.1 million EU-funded project. But does this really compensate for centuries of looting?

Whether any of the world’s museums harboring artifacts taken from Egypt during the imperialist era will take this golden opportunity to return them, boosting their reputations in the process, remains to be seen.

But if ever there was a good time for Egypt’s heritage to be restored to its rightful home, it is surely now, so it may be displayed in the country’s vast new temple to its past, for the benefit of all Egyptians and the many tourists from all over the world who will surely journey to see it. 

Twitter: @JonathanGornall

How conflict is jeopardizing Sudan’s museums and cultural heritage

How conflict is jeopardizing Sudan’s museums and cultural heritage
Updated 12 sec ago

How conflict is jeopardizing Sudan’s museums and cultural heritage

How conflict is jeopardizing Sudan’s museums and cultural heritage
  • Priceless archives have already been ravaged by fire and looting since the conflict began on April 15
  • Experts fear artifacts spanning Sudan’s 6,000-year history could face similar fate to Syria’s antiquities

JUBA, South Sudan: Sudan’s rich cultural heritage is at risk of irreparable damage from the conflict raging for more than a month now as museums lack adequate protection from looters and vandalism.

The clashes have caused widespread suffering and misery, destroyed infrastructure and property, and sparked a humanitarian emergency. However, the two feuding factions, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), continue to ignore international calls for dialogue.

In the latest troubling development, RSF fighters seized control of the Sudan National Museum in the capital, Khartoum, on Friday. Although they assured that no harm had been done and steps had been taken to protect the artifacts, including ancient mummies, there is no way to verify those claims.

The museum houses a diverse collection of statues, pottery, ancient murals, and artifacts dating from the Stone Age as well as the Christian and Islamic periods.

An elephant skull displayed at Sudan National History Museum. (Supplied)

The conflict initially erupted in Khartoum but quickly spread to other states and cities, causing significant casualties. Multiple ceasefire deals have been announced and quickly broken. Nearly one million people have been displaced.

As diplomats scramble to bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table and aid agencies deploy assistance to help those in need, Sudan’s heritage sites and ancient collections have little protection from theft and destruction.

“The Sudan National Museum has become a battleground,” Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist and civil rights activist, told Arab News.

Smoke billows in southern Khartoum on May 29, 2023, amid ongoing fighting between two rival generals in Sudan. (AFP)

The location of the museum — in close proximity to the SAF’s Khartoum headquarters — made it at once vulnerable to accidental damage and difficult for officials to guard its collections.

“This further exacerbated the danger, as anyone found near the premises risked immediate harm, as tragically witnessed when a university student was fatally shot,” said Albaih.

Established in 1971, the museum is the largest in Sudan, housing an extensive collection of Nubian artifacts spanning thousands of years. It offers a comprehensive account of Sudan’s captivating history from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic, Kerma culture, and medieval Makuria.

Besides the national museum, the Presidential Palace Museum, chronicling Sudan’s modern history, the Ethnographic Museum, established in 1956 to celebrate the nation’s ethnic diversity, and the Sudan Natural History Museum are also at risk.

Sara A. K. Saeed, director of the Natural History Museum, recently drew the world’s attention via Twitter to the fact that Sudan’s “museums are now without guards to protect them from looting and vandalism.”

She raised particular concern about the welfare of the live animals held within the museum’s collections, which include several species of reptiles, birds, mammals, snakes and scorpions for research purposes, and which now face neglect and starvation.

The entry of SAF fighters into the Sudan National Museum happened just days after a building in Omdurman, northwest of Khartoum, housing archives that included priceless documents chronicling Sudan’s colonial past, was ravaged by fire and looters.

Home to some 200 pyramids — almost twice the number in Egypt — and the legendary Kingdom of Kush, Sudan is one of the world’s most precious reservoirs of human culture and civilization.

Without pressure from the international community on the warring parties to guarantee the preservation of historical artifacts, experts fear the unchecked conflict could erase 6,000 years of Sudanese history, in echoes of the destruction visited upon Syria over the past decade.

The civil war and concurrent Daesh insurgency devastated ancient heritage sites across Syria, including the monumental ruins of Palmyra and much of the historic center of Aleppo. Many objects looted by militants found their way onto the black market.

A file photo taken on March 31, 2016, shows a photographer holding his picture of the Temple of Bel taken on March 14, 2014 in front of the remains of the historic temple after it was destroyed by Daesh group in September 2015 in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. (AFP)

Christopher A. Marinello, a renowned lawyer known for his tireless work recovering looted artworks, told Arab News that “looters will dig up objects to sell quickly for survival, often at a fraction of their true value.

“These objects find their way to countries such as Libya and Turkiye before reaching the West,” he said, adding that this illicit trade could exacerbate security problems, as the proceeds from such sales could end up funding international terrorism.

International agencies have several mechanisms in place designed to prevent the destruction of heritage in wartime.

“Prior to any conflict, it is crucial to conduct documentation and cataloging of cultural sites, ensuring that proper records are maintained,” Bastien Varoutsikos, director of strategic development at the Aliph Foundation, a network dedicated to protecting cultural heritage in conflict areas, told Arab News.

The Aliph Foundation has been actively involved in various projects in Sudan since 2020, protecting, among others, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Meroe against the threat of Nile flooding and human activities.


  • Museums in Sudan are at risk of irreparable harm, officials warn.
  • Archives in Omdurman have already been ravaged by fire and looting.
  • Experts say collective memory, identity and history must be safeguarded.

Meanwhile, the Western Sudan Community Museums project, funded by Aliph, focuses on community engagement and the establishment of museums celebrating the region’s unique heritage.

The agency has also implemented capacity-building programs across Sudan to provide professional training in heritage protection, including the utilization of digital preservation methods to help safeguard sites.

Anwar Sabik, field projects manager at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, emphasized the need “to keep experienced professionals working on cultural heritage close to these invaluable treasures, not only to prevent material damage but also to preserve Sudan’s knowledge and expertise.”

Since 2018, the agency has gone beyond the traditional role of museums by providing a community dimension.

“The aim has been to transform museums into vibrant hubs where people can gather, celebrate their intangible cultural heritage, and foster a sense of community,” Sabik told Arab News.

Now, with the violence in Sudan showing no sign of abating, all of this work could now be at risk.

A man visits the Khalifa House ethnographic museum in Omdurman, the twin city of Sudan’s capital, on January 18, 2022. (AFP)

Without proper protection and preservation, the conflict threatens to erase not only tangible artifacts but also the intangible fabric of Sudanese society. Traditional practices, customs, and oral histories that have been passed down through generations could disappear forever.

“The disappearance of these invaluable resources would inflict an irreparable loss upon Sudan and the world,” said Sabik. “Perhaps, Sudan has already lost a part of it as a result of the mass displacement.”

According to Varoutsikos, although reports of unprotected museums and archaeological sites have surfaced, documented instances of actual looting remain, mercifully, limited.

“In times of conflict, it is challenging to confirm looting occurrences without concrete evidence,” he told Arab News.

To combat the illicit market for cultural goods, Varoutsikos says, governments must implement stringent measures that make it difficult for these illegally acquired items to find a market.

“Decision-makers in each country play a crucial role in enacting and enforcing such measures,” he said. Heightened vigilance among customs and law-enforcement agencies worldwide is one such measure.

However, “determining the demand on the black market, particularly in the Middle East, is challenging due to the abundance of valuable items that attract interest,” Varoutsikos said.

Sudan National History Museum. (Supplied)

Matters are complicated further, as looted artifacts are often stored for extended periods before being sold to avoid attracting attention. Caution is also essential in the market due to the prevalence of fake items, which impacts sellers and buyers alike.

How the warring parties and the international community choose to respond to these calls for action could determine what sort of society emerges when peace finally returns — one that is united by its shared heritage, or one that is torn asunder.

“Sudan’s museums and the invaluable artifacts they house are not just a reflection of the past,” Varoutsikos said. “They have the power to shape the future.”


Kuwait’s foreign minister and US Navy chief discuss security cooperation

Kuwait’s foreign minister and US Navy chief discuss security cooperation
Updated 55 min 35 sec ago

Kuwait’s foreign minister and US Navy chief discuss security cooperation

Kuwait’s foreign minister and US Navy chief discuss security cooperation
  • Sheikh Salem emphasized the importance of strengthening the security of waterways in the Gulf region

KUWAIT: Kuwaiti Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, met on Monday to discuss the relationship between their countries in the realm of naval security, and ways in which cooperation might be enhanced.

The minister emphasized the importance of strengthening the security of waterways and ensuring the freedom and safety of movement of vessels in the Gulf region.

Cooper praised the bilateral ties between the nations and thanked the leadership, government and people of Kuwait for hosting US armed forces.

Yemen’s Lahj security forces seize drone parts bound for Houthis 

Images of seized drone parts destined for the Houthis. (Supplied)
Images of seized drone parts destined for the Houthis. (Supplied)
Updated 05 June 2023

Yemen’s Lahj security forces seize drone parts bound for Houthis 

Images of seized drone parts destined for the Houthis. (Supplied)
  • Rights groups call for impartial investigation of prisoner’s death within militia-run jail in Ibb province

AL-MUKALLA: Security forces in Yemen’s Lahj province on Sunday intercepted a shipment of drone components headed for the Houthis, the latest in a series of similar interceptions of weapons and explosives bound for Houthi-controlled areas. 

The Giants Brigade’s 2nd Brigade in Lahj halted a van transporting sealed boxes from Aden, and after opening the boxes, soldiers discovered motors, batteries, cameras, and other drone parts, and the shipment was buried within toys and covered with motorcycles.

Despite scrutiny at Aden port or other government-controlled entrance points, many local officials and journalists believe the Houthis were able to transport weapons into Yemen through government-controlled areas. 

“The event (in Lahj) demonstrates that the Houthi militia is still preparing for war rather than peace,” Fatehi bin Lazerq, editor of Aden Al-Ghad newspaper, told Arab News, adding that if multiple military and security forces cooperate, the shipment would not have had to travel through dozens of checkpoints in government-controlled areas.

“If we presume that the shipment left the port of Aden or another province, it must have passed through dozens of security checkpoints. As a result, it throws light on the fact that the Houthi(s are) still transporting … weaponry through legitimate government channels, owing to a lack of cooperation among security services.”

It comes as security officials at Yemen’s Shehin Border Crossing with Oman revealed the seizure of 355 kg of potassium permanganate, an ingredient that can be used in the manufacturing of cocaine, which was hidden among cargo on two vehicles bound for Houthi-controlled Sanaa.

During the past eight years, many supplies of weapons or drugs meant for the Houthis have been intercepted in government-controlled areas such as Marib, Hadramout and Mahra.

Separately, human rights groups have called for an impartial investigation into a prisoner’s death within a Houthi-run jail in the province of Ibb, accusing the Houthis of deliberately neglecting captives until they died.

Yemenis say that Faisal Al-Sabri, a prisoner in Ibb City’s Central Prison, was transferred to a city hospital after suffering a stroke and was left handcuffed in the hospital’s corridor due to a “lack of empty beds.”

The Houthis later returned him to the prison, where he died. 

Yemeni activists shared a photo of a handcuffed man wearing a blue prison uniform with an intravenous drip in his arm and lying on the ground, in what appeared to be the hospital in Ibb.

Human rights group Rights Radar said in a statement: “Rights Radar demands a probe into the circumstances behind the death of prisoner Faisal Al-Sabri, who died at the Central Prison in Ibb Governorate, central Yemen, just days after suffering a stroke and not receiving the proper treatment.”

Dozens of former detainees in Houthi jails have died soon after their release from illnesses contracted while in prison.

Many more Yemenis have perished in Houthi detention centers, either as a consequence of torture or because the Houthis denied them life-saving medicine. 

Abu Dhabi civil defense dealing with fire in Mussafah Industrial area: Police

Abu Dhabi civil defense dealing with fire in Mussafah Industrial area: Police
Updated 05 June 2023

Abu Dhabi civil defense dealing with fire in Mussafah Industrial area: Police

Abu Dhabi civil defense dealing with fire in Mussafah Industrial area: Police
  • ‘Relevant authorities have begun work’: ADCD statement

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi police and civil defense are dealing with a fire that broke out at a warehouse in the Mussafah industrial area, Abu Dhabi Police said on Twitter late on Monday.

“The relevant authorities have begun work and emphasize the importance of seeking information from official sources,” the police said.

No further details were available.

IAEA will ‘never politicize’ its work in Iran, Grossi says

IAEA will ‘never politicize’ its work in Iran, Grossi says
Updated 05 June 2023

IAEA will ‘never politicize’ its work in Iran, Grossi says

IAEA will ‘never politicize’ its work in Iran, Grossi says

VIENNA: The International Atomic Energy Agency will “never politicize” its work in Iran, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Monday, insisting after Israel’s prime minister accused it of capitulating to Iranian pressure that his agency has been “very fair but firm.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments came after a confidential report from the IAEA last week said that its investigators had closed off their investigation of traces of man-made uranium found at Marivan, near the city of Abadeh, about 525 km southeast of Tehran.

Analysts had repeatedly linked Marivan to a possible secret Iranian military nuclear program and accused Iran of conducting high-explosives tests there in the early 2000s.

“Iran is continuing to lie to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency’s capitulation to Iranian pressure is a black stain on its record,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet in televised remarks on Sunday.

“If the IAEA becomes a political organization, then its oversight activity in Iran is without significance, as will be its reports on Iran’s nuclear activity,” Netanyahu said.

Asked on Monday about that criticism, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that his agency’s work is “neutral, it is impartial, it is technical.”

“We will always say things as they are,” Grossi told reporters on the first day of a regular meeting in Vienna of the IAEA board of governors.

Grossi added that he would “never enter into a polemic” with the head of government of a member of the IAEA. “We never politicize. We have our standards and apply them always,” he said.

“The politicization is in the eye of the beholder,” Grossi added.

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, and Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he would not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. 

He has said international diplomacy should be accompanied by a serious military option, and hinted that Israel would be prepared to strike Iran on its own if necessary.

Before Netanyahu’s comments, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said in a statement on Friday that the explanations provided by Iran for the presence of nuclear material at the Marivan site are “not reliable or technically possible.”

But Grossi insisted that the IAEA will “never, ever” water down its safeguards standards.

“We have been strict, technically impartial and, as I like to say, very fair but firm,” he said.

Grossi warned that cooperation with Iran on better monitoring its nuclear program was “very slow,” saying while some cameras and other equipment had been installed again “a lot more” needed to be done.

Analysts had repeatedly linked Marivan to a possible clandestine Iranian military nuclear program that the IAEA, the West and other countries say was abandoned in 2003. 

They had accused Iran of conducting high-explosives tests there in the early 2000s.

Last week’s IAEA report said that “another member state” operated a mine at the area in the 1960s and 1970s under the rule of then Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Iran had argued the uranium traces could have come from “laboratory instruments and equipment” used by miners at the site. 

The IAEA called the answer “a possible explanation.”

The IAEA is still seeking explanations on the origin and current location of the man-made uranium particles found at two other sites in Iran, Varamin and Turquzabad.

Tehran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and continues to insist that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.