Nevine El-Aref asks what the future holds for Egypt's antiquities, and how the new man at the helm plans to handle a department threatened by a critical lack of funds.
Archaeologists are still protesting at the front entrances of archaeological sites, and archaeological work is at a stalemate despite the appointment of a new head to hold Egypt's antiquities portfolio.
Early this week Prime Minister Essam Sharaf appointed Mustafa Amin as the new secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) following the resignation of Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, who had held the post of head of Egypt's antiquities office for less than six weeks.
Although Sharaf had charged Abdel-Fattah with supervising the SCA's archaeological and administrative work -- for which he was given ministerial authority -- Abdel-Fattah insisted on resigning as protesters continued their sit-in and blocked the entrance of the SCA's Abbasiya building, switched off the electricity and prevented employees from entering their offices. They also drove away the security guards and locked the building's iron gate.
In Aswan the situation was even worse. Protesters closed the doors of the Nubia Museum and Abu Simbel temples and prevented representatives of World Tourism Day from visiting both sites.
Abdel-Fattah told Al-Ahram Weekly that his resignation did not stem from fear of the protests, but rather the contrary.
"My resignation is not from floundering or cowardice, but I cannot direct the SCA in this form," he said. He added that he was only given the authority to process the SCA's day-to-day work , but not to appoint temporary staff or pay salaries.
"The SCA's financial situation is really critical and no one helped me," he said.
Abdel-Fattah accused Egypt of abandoning its antiquities sector and leaving it in a desperate state, despite what archaeology had done for the country over the years.
He went on to say that the SCA was in debt to the tune of LE750 million to construction companies responsible for restoration work at several sites. It had also borrowed LE61 million from banks to pay the salaries of SCA employees, in addition to a further LE350 million from the government, which will increase to LE400 million after the addition of benefits.
"How can I pay all these debts?" Abdel-Fattah asks. "I don't even have enough money to pay for the restoration work and the delayed salaries."
Amin, the SCA's new head, is the former director of the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Department. On Sunday, his first day in office, he met protesters who had been sitting at the front doors of the SCA's Abbasiya building for four days in the hope of reaching a conclusion and ending the sit-in. During the meeting, Amin told the protesters that he and the prime minister agreed that it was necessary to seek an immediate solution by giving permanent appointments to all those temporary SCA staff who had been in the job for more than three years.
As a first step, Amin told the Weekly, 4,065 temporary staff members would be appointed immediately, and this would continue until all 12,000 temporary employees were given secure appointments.
At first it appeared that the protesters were appeased by these assurances, but two hours after the meeting 200 of them were again picketing the front entrance of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and demanding a quick solution. Ahmed Kamel, a technical director at the museums section, said the latest protest was intended to put more pressure on the government to hold to its promises and meet the protesters' demands.
Hassan Abdel-Salam, one of the protesters, told the Weekly that the protest was continuing because they would not believe any promises until they materialised. "I have been a temporary employee in the SCA organisation for 10 years, and nothing has solved the problem in spite of several promises to appoint me to the permanent staff," Abdel-Salam told the Weekly. He said that since the post-revolutionary Ministry of State for Antiquities reverted to the SCA four months ago, every secretary- general had promised to appoint them. "Three secretary- generals now in four months, and nothing has happened," Abdel-Salam said angrily.
An employee at the Egyptian Museum who requested anonymity said the protesters were at the museum's front door to make their presence felt to Amin, and said they were giving him a week to fulfil his promise to appoint temporary staff. If not, he continued, they would return to block the SCA building.
Amin says he will carry out his promise, which is guaranteed by the prime minister. He says the delay in appointments was not the fault of the previous secretary-general, and blames the previous government. Even the 4,065 temporary employees whose appointment was approved by the former minister of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, found that the previous government did not activate the approvals in case other ministries requested appointments for their temporary staff.
So will the SCA be appointing any fresh graduates on to the SCA staff? Amin says that for the time being it is impossible to do so. "We have to appoint the temporary staff first as they have all priority," he says. "They are part of the SCA's staff and its office echelon, and I have to first reconcile the positions of the temporary staff and then see the outsiders."
Amin also met the SCA's top officials and listened to their complaints. He relayed to them the details of his meeting with Sharaf in an attempt to turn a new page with all the SCA staff, whether senior staff or lesser employees. "I am the son of the SCA and all the staff are my colleagues," Amine said.
Asked about his thoughts for archaeological work and the fate of ancient Egyptian monuments, Amin, as a specialist in Islamic and Coptic studies, said that his expertise in Islamic and Coptic monuments would not be an obstacle between him and the monuments of ancient Egypt as he had a diploma in ancient Egyptian archaeology. "My duty is to preserve Egypt's antiquities whether Islamic, Coptic, Jewish or Pharaonic," he said.
Amin told Ahram Online that he needed some time to reorganise the SCA and its administrative and archaeological planning, but he promised to go forward and complete the SCA's mega projects such as the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) as well as removing all the encroachment on Al-Muizz Street in Islamic Cairo and the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor.
Amin has appointed Adel Abdel-Sattar to replace him as head of the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Department, and the former SCA secretary-general, Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, as the head of the NMEC supreme committee.
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