Following Morsi Ouster, Is Egypt’s Cultural Identity Being 'Erased'?

Following the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Islamists have started a campaign of burning museums and culural sites aimed at erasing the country’s cultural identity.

al-monitor People walk around a burned and destroyed Evangelical Church in Mallawi in Minya province, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) south of Cairo, Aug. 17, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS.

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museum, egypt, culture

Aug 25, 2013

The Andalusian Muslim polymath Averroes — commonly known as Ibn Rushd — said that “God would never give us minds that create thoughts and civilization, and then give Sharia laws that contradict them.” It is as if he were seeing how Egyptian culture is presently being burned and treated as if were against religion at the hands of Islamist terrorist groups. After the Egyptian army declared war on armed groups carrying the banner of “legitimacy,” following the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi — who supported the same puritanical ideology — flames of fire have broken out in Egypt and reached the platforms of thought and culture across the country.

After the start of the campaign launched by the Interior Ministry and the Egyptian armed forces to break up the Muslim Brotherhood’s protest camps and pursue them in alternative squares,   Egyptian museums, public libraries and  cultural palaces were set on fire. Members of armed Islamist groups broke into the Mallawi National Museum, which is just meters away from the Cairo-Aswan agricultural road, in Minya province.

The two-story museum was built in 1963 over an area of ​​nearly 600 square meters (6,458 square feet). It consists of four galleries that exhibit archaeological findings from Tunah al Jabal, el-Ashmunein, Amarna and Meir. A rare collection of mummified birds, monkeys and ibis — which are a symbol of Thoth, the god of Hermopolis — plus a large collection of bronze statues symbolizing this god, and stone, wood and pottery coffins of the monkeys and ibis are also on display.

The museum also contains a set of wooden and stone coffins, a set of masks from the Greek and Roman eras, Demotic papyrus, a wide range of pottery and statues from different eras, Greek and Roman currencies, stones with writing in Greek language, as well as some cosmetics, jewelry and objects of everyday life.

Approximately 1,500 (out of 1,980) artifacts were stolen from this museum. Only coffins and mummies were left after vandals were unable to carry them off. However, they still destroyed and smashed them up. Thus, all the museum’s antiquities are now damaged and need to be repaired, which will require hard work and exorbitant sums of money.

Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said that the ministry is preparing a detailed report with pictures on the status of the Mallawi museum following the attack before sending it to Mohamed Sameh Amr, a permanent delegate of Egypt to UNESCO.

Furthermore, cultural palaces in Minya and Sohag provinces were subjected to armed attacks by supporters of deposed President Morsi. They looted the contents of these cultural facilities and committed acts of sabotage. The armed groups stormed antiquities shops and museums, including Rommel's Museum in the province of Mersa Matruh, in addition to antiquities shops in Mehsana, in the city of Beni Mazar in Minya province. Residents were opposed to these attacks.

As for the rare and important libraries in Egypt, there is a lot to say. The Library of Alexandria was looted and  a large part of its collection was burned by gunmen affiliated with Islamist groups close to the Brotherhood. It was reported that they were chanting “Allahu Akbar” [God is Great] during the acts of sabotage and looting.

Moreover, the library of the great writer Mohamed Hassanein Heikal was completely burned … [Aug. 15] by Morsi supporters. The library, located in the town of Birqash in Giza, was considered one of the most important in Egypt; it had hundreds of books and a large number of rare documents.

Regarding the details of the incident, eyewitnesses told As-Safir that dozens of Morsi supporters surrounded and set fire to the entire villa that belonged to the great writer and succeeded in burning the library that is attached to the villa.

Some have linked the burning of Heikal’s library to a meeting between former MPs in the Information and Cultural Committee in the dissolved Shura Council … [Aug. 13] in the Rabia Al-Adawiya mosque, hours before the breakup of the protest. This is where they issued what they called a “blacklist” of the names of writers who supported the “coup,” which included Heikal.

For his part, Mokhtar Kasbani, professor of Islamic art and a former adviser to the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, attributed the attacks against Egyptian cultural sites to a plan designed to erase Egypt’s identity and heritage. He pointed out that execution of this plan began earlier this year with the demolition of part of the Mirza archeological site —  built in the era of Mohamed Pasha Sufi —  following an attack by a group of “thugs.” Kasbani said calls to demolish the archaeological sites by those who pretend to be Islamic — which came in particular during the reign of the former Brotherhood Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz — encouraged thugs to attack historic monuments. He placed what took place today within the context of Morsi’s revenge against Egyptian cultural identity.

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