A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Man Whose Name Has Been Dragged Through the Mud: Egyptologist Gaston Maspero

Gaston Maspero
For the past week, a man who died nearly a century ago has seen his name dragged through the tragic events that occurred in Cairo last Sunday. "Maspero" has become the universal shorthand for the horrific clashes last week between Coptic demonstrators and the Army. "Maspero" is now a dirty word, in Egypt and beyond, the name of an atrocity, a human rights violation.

Gaston Camille Charles Maspero (1846-1916) surely deserves better. A disciple of Auguste Mariette, founder of the Egyptian Museum and Director-General of Egyptian Antiquities, he went to Egypt to organize what became the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale (IFAO or French Institute), still functioning. When Mariette died, he succeeded him. The Wikipedia entry linked above will give you the basic outline of his career.

Because of his association with the Egyptian Museum, a nearby street was named Maspero ("nearby" was more obvious before the October 6 bridge approaches were built in the 1970s, anyway), and the huge Egyptian Radio and Television Building (right), also the usual home base for decades of foreign correspondents based in Egypt, came to be called "Maspero" after the street. After January 25 it became second only to Tahrir Square as a venue for protests (as protests there could block both the Nile Corniche and the October 6 bridge); it particularly became a popular site for Coptic protests.

And so a French Egyptologist (he was a hieroglyphics expert before anything else) and archaeologist has now had his name transformed into a notorious symbol. Most of those lamenting the events at "Maspero" probably have no idea who the man was.

No comments: