I came up with the idea of creating a rapid intervention task force to save Egypt’s heritage after the acts of vandalism against Egypt’s national museum that took place on January 28, 2011. [Editor’s Note: These acts of vandalism, which occurred on the third day of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, created a scandal
: revolutionaries accused the Mubarak regime of orchestrating the incident in a bid to discredit the revolution].
After this, I felt like I needed to step up to save my country’s heritage. I travelled to Italy, at my own expense, to receive training on how to carry out emergency safeguard measures to preserve antiquities. In Rome, I took part in two training workshops at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM
I learned how to save damaged pieces of art, or at least how to limit the damage while waiting for a real restoration to be undertaken.
When I returned home, I created the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation, and I organised three training workshops in Cairo, thanks to funding from the Prince Claus Fund
and UNESCO. I’ll soon be organising new sessions with volunteers in other parts of the country, who will then be in charge of disseminating their new knowledge in their respective provinces.
Egyptian Heritage Rescue volunteers during their intervention at the Museum of Islamic Art.
Our first intervention took place at Museum of Islamic Art
. We went there just hours after the attack. We cleared the area and set up a security perimeter. We then stocked and packaged the antiques that were not affected. We dried and set aside those objects that had been damaged.
Luckily, the explosion caused relatively minimal damage. The most important pieces of art were spared, and we will be able to restore the majority of those that were damaged, except some made out of glass, which are now lost forever. [According to the minister of antiquities, 74 artefacts were destroyed and 90 were damaged, out of a total of 1,471 objects on display.]
Volunteers with Egyptian Heritage Rescue at the Museum of Islamic Art.
We worked in coordination with the Ministry of Culture and with the Museums Directorate, both of which were very cooperative on the ground. However, the Egyptian authorities have not given us any financial support.
Abdel Hamid el-Chérif at the Museum of Islamic Art.
We currently have 36 volunteers, a majority of whom are staff members at the Ministry of Antiquities. For practical reasons, we don’t accept just anyone interested in volunteering, only those with some expertise in antiquities.”