Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Weeks on Protecting Egypt’s Archaeology

Kent R. Weeks has written an important assessment in Newsweek of the situation in Egypt: “Can Egypt Protect Its Ancient Monuments?”  Weeks is professor emeritus of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo and founding director of the Theban Mapping Project.

The SCA’s on-site inspectors, who are supposed to administer and preserve the country’s heritage, are underpaid and unmotivated. Most are young and—for the first few years, at least—enthusiastic about their job. But the low salary and near-universal reluctance of their superiors to delegate authority leads to frustration. A large number leave to become tourist guides. Instead of taking 300 Egyptian pounds a month from the SCA (about $50), they can earn six or seven times that amount as guides.

Besides staffing problems, the SCA is perennially underfunded, even though archeological tourism generates considerable income. In December 2010 ticket sales to sites in Luxor alone earned $30 million for Egypt. But much of this money goes to the government treasury, and the SCA routinely postpones or ignores conservation, maintenance, documentation, and tourist management because of a lack of funds.

Meanwhile, the number of visitors to archeological sites increases every year. The Valley of the Kings, which had perhaps 100 visitors a day in 1970, had 8,000 a day in December of last year, and the Ministry of Tourism hopes for 15,000 a day by 2015. The pressures such numbers inflict on tombs and temples are enormous. Yet no long-term comprehensive management plan to protect them has yet been agreed upon.

Tourism is a major pillar of the Egyptian economy, and given the income that archeological sites generate, one might think their protection would be a primary goal. After all: no sites, no money. But almost every branch of government wants some control over that income and wants as much of it as possible for themselves, focusing only on short-term gain. Since the revolution, the number of tourists has dropped dramatically, and one can imagine that the SCA will now feel even more financial pressure.

The whole is worth reading for all who are interested in Egypt’s archaeological heritage.

HT: Jack Sasson

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