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Rebuilding an Era

Just two days after a car bomb sent shockwaves through a priceless collection of Islamic artifacts, Egypt Today was onsite to view the damage. A look at the Islamic Art Museum before and after.


By Dominika Maslikowski




Two days after shock waves from January 24’s early morning explosion ripped through Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art, workers from the antiquities ministry were still picking up scraps of wood from among the rubble. The blast, targeting the Security Directorate across the street, killed at least four people, injured more than 75 others, and shattered the windows of four historic mosques hundreds of metres away. As the media got a look at the damage, Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs Mohamed Ibrahim pledged to rebuild the destroyed museum “better than before,” adding that UNESCO has offered $100,000 to restore the museum while popular actor Mohamed Sobhi has suggested a campaign to raise additional funds.

UNESCO will send a team of specialists to Cairo to assess the damage to the museum, in the city’s downtown Bab El-Khalq district, and determine the type of aid required, Ibrahim said at a January 26 press conference. The rebuilt museum will include some pieces that were destroyed to help document “how the Egyptian people have struggled against terrorism,” Ibrahim said.

Inside the museum, shattered glass and debris lay across the floor as wires dangled from the blown-out false ceiling that had housed the air conditioning unit. Display cases were completely shattered and the artifacts had been taken out by teams of ministry workers in rubber gloves. Delicate artifacts of porcelain or glass had been blown apart, the minister said. Ibrahim also dispelled rumors that the jug of Marwan ben Muhammad, the last Umayyad caliph, had been destroyed. A ministry worker brought out the jug to show journalists.

DSC_0107The museum, considered one of the world’s most important collections of Islamic artifacts, contained some 1,800 pieces on display with some 98,000 in storage. It had reopened in 2010 after the completion of a seven-year, $14.4-million renovation. Among the collection is a Mamluk-era fountain with semiprecious stones, now filled with debris, a rare copy of the Quran and a key to the Kaaba in Mecca, along with scientific instruments and Ottoman-era ceramics.

Ibrahim said “most if not all” of the destroyed artifacts can be restored, adding that the ministry will later issue an official statement outlining all the damage in detail.

“These desperate, cowardly attempts will not stop the Egyptian people from continuing on the road map to a future that will achieve the goals of the January [2011] and June [2013] revolutions,” he said.

DI-IslamicMuseumExplosion32-HSAnother three bombings in Greater Cairo on that Friday had left two more fatalities. Islamists blamed the police for orchestrating the attack as an effort to turn Egyptians against the Muslim Brotherhood, while the militant Islamist group Ansar Beit Al-Makdes (Partisans of Jerusalem) reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombing at the police compound.

Ibrahim said that the museum’s crisis management team and tourism police were at the scene of the blast half an hour after the explosion shook the old Cairo district, and that the museum shut its doors to ensure security and prevent theft. Security was so tight that even district attorneys were frisked, Ibrahim said while repeating that he had the “utmost respect” for the judiciary.

“Black, cowardly terrorism does not differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian, or anyone. This terrorism is blind,” Ibrahim said. “I’m telling everyone we must maintain our composure, unite and not respond to those who try to break our unity. We must stay strong so we can be on top.”

In late January, the Ministry of Finance approved the Antiquities Ministry’s request to open an official account under the name “Saving the Egyptian Heritage” to accept donations from inside and outside Egypt to go towards rehabilitating the museum building and restoring the damage artifacts. In a written statement, the Antiquities Ministry said the projects required “millions of Egyptian pounds,” and noted that the drop in tourism had left the ministry with limited income. et

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