A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Are the Fustat Excvations Threatened by the Egyptian Government Itself? Part I

UNESCO's World Heritage Day was 11 days ago, on April 18,  and we all are aware that the wars, revolutions, and insecurity in the Middle East have been devastating, with many UNESCO World Heritage Sites damaged or even destroyed. The looting of the Baghdad Museum during the Iraq War is well known, and the Syrian civil war has damaged or destroyed heritage sites in many places including Aleppo and Homs, while the "Arab castle" overlooking the ruins of Palmyra and the Crusader Krak des Chevaliers have become fortresses again in a modern war. Some material from the Egyptian Museum was looted during the Revolution, and in the insecurity in Egypt since there have been encroachments on some of the less-visited pyramid groups and an extensive looting of the Mallawi Museum with its collection of relics of the Amarna era. Many ancient Coptic churches suffered damage last summer, and the terrorist bombing of a police headquarters in Cairo's Bab al-Khalq caused extensive damage to the Museum of Islamic Art and the Old Dar al-Kutub with its manuscript collection, which share a building across the street.

But those damages were all products of war, civil war, revolution, looting or terrorism.The latest threat to a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site, emerging right around World Heritage Day, is reportedly coming not from terrorism or looters, but from the Cairo Governorate itself.

The reports are a bit inconclusive because the Egyptian authorities are evasive, but there is a fea r tha the excvations in at last part of the site of Egypt's first Islamic capital, al-Fustat, the nucleus from which Cairo evolved, may be tuned into a public garden, with uncertain consequences for the archaeological site.

First I want to give you some readings on the present crisis, then, in part two later today or tomorrow. a bit of historical context.

For a summary of the arguments in English, the state-owned Ahram Online  has a report sympathetic to preservationists: "Islamic Egypt's First Capital Under Threat."

It spells out the basic controversy. Cairo blogger Zeinobia, who has strong preservationist instincts, has chimed in with "#Save Fustat: How Did We Master the Art of Destroying Our History?"; "#Save Fustat: Save the Excavation Works," and "#Save Fustat: The Landfill Started Already!"

And if you haven't figured it out already the Twitter hashtag is #SaveFustat (or in Arabic انقدوا_الفسطاط#).

Zeinobia has also posted photos by Omneya Abdel Barr showing what's going on, including the pic above and others of which I'll post in Part II.

Those posts will bring you up to speed on the controversy in English. For those who read Arabic, much of the key documentation is appearing at the Facebook page SAVE CAIRO  انقذوا القاهرة.

The historical and archaeological context of all this will appear in Part II, later today or tomorrow.

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