The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has promised to send a technical team of experts to help Egypt restore buildings with archaeological value, museums, and damaged churches, monasteries and mosques
, said Mohamed Sameh, Egypt’s ambassador to the UNESCO. Among them was the Mallawi museum which was ransacked. The destruction was the work of Egypt’s Islamists, among whom the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a major movement, in retaliation against the overthrow of the Mursi Islamist rule and the security breakup of the subsequent six-week-long MB sit-ins.
Sameh said the UNESCO team will work with experts from the Ministry of Antiquities to assess the damages. “The UNESCO decision clearly reflects how worried the officials there are after they were shown in detail, by an Egyptian delegation, the deliberate criminal destruction that targeted Egypt’s heritage and its historical churches and buildings,” Sameh said.
Message to Irena Bukova
A week earlier, the writer and president of Egypt’s Writers’ Union, secretary-general of the Arab Writers Union, and secretary-general of the African-Asian Writers Union Mohamed Salmawi published an open letter to UNESCO Director-General Irena Bukova, expressing his outrage at the failure of the organisation to respond to recent the devastating attacks on Egypt’s heritage.
I am writing to you from a country in which the black axe of destruction and the raging flames of hatred are demolishing and consuming all Egyptian heritage within reach. This heritage is not Egypt’s alone. It is human heritage and its loss is a loss for all mankind, not Egypt alone.
I am writing to you in anger, in spite of the friendliness that marked our few meetings since you were appointed director-general of UNESCO in 2009, and before that when you were your country’s delegate to this organisation.
I am writing to you concerning the very heart of your work and the core responsibility of your organisation, not about the precious blood that has been spilt, the human appendages that have been severed, or the charred bodies of the dead. For these, apparently, are of little concern to the West unless they belong to the terrorist hordes that are currently waging a relentless assault against the Egyptian people, their public and private property and their ancient heritage. These fascist forces, which have fraudulently assumed the garb of Islam, have attacked museums, houses of worship, libraries and historic buildings in this country that is the custodian of the antiquities and monuments of one of the most important and oldest of human civilisations.
I am writing to you because, amidst all this destruction, I have yet to hear a single word of protest from you or from your venerable organisation, even as some in the West are now shedding crocodile tears over the absence of democracy or the loss of human rights. Cultural heritage, too, has rights, Madam, just as people do. Foremost among the rights of cultural heritage is the right to exist, after which comes the right to preservation, the right to restoration, and the right to be bequeathed to future generations, for although we have inherited this legacy from our ancestors, in fact we are actually borrowing it from our descendants. All these rights have been battered, molested and set aflame.
One of the victims of these brutal assaults was the Malawi National Museum in Minya from which 1,050 of its 1,089 artefacts were plundered. But in this case, the aim of the fascists’ attack on the museum was not so much to steal, as occurs in your museums, for the pieces that the plunderers were unable to remove from the museum were destroyed where they stood. Some are now beyond repair. Then, on the evening of the same day, those same sinful hands returned to burn down the museum itself. Does this not give you a clear idea of the nature of the terrorist groups that were ruling us, the ones who, after we overthrew them, you are demanding that we reinstate so that they can share in the process of shaping the future of this great country? They do not belong to this nation or recognise its ancient civilisation, which they condemn as a collection of idols and icons that must be burned and demolished so that the darkness of their deranged obscurantist thinking can prevail. The foregoing does not imply intent to exclude; it is merely a recapitulation of their frequently reiterated statements on this subject.
Some of the objects that were plundered or destroyed from Malawi are among the most important antiquities of ancient Egypt. They include rare examples of that unique intermarriage between the Egyptian and Hellenic civilisations from the Greek through the Roman era. This is a humanitarian calamity and it should be regarded as such by you, personally, and by your venerable organisation whose raison d’être stems from the cause of defending such heritage and protecting it from the destructive hand of time, which has proven to be kinder on stone than the hand of evil.
At the very moment I write this to you, attacks are being carried out against the Rommel Museum in Al-Alamein and the Bahnasa Museum in Beni Mazar, while the number of churches that have been ransacked and burned throughout the country has soared to 60.
There have also been attacks on many other of our country’s abundant historic buildings, the value of which the assailants are ignorant because they are unable to appreciate culture, civilisation and the arts that are embodied in every stone of every architectural edifice that carries the “genetic code” of the unique and unparalleled identity of this country.
The Giza governorate building is not a historic building so it would not be listed on your heritage registers. Nevertheless, I recall that when I first entered that building I sat amazed in the governor’s office as I counted the names of some of the world’s renowned 19th century artists signed on the paintings that bedecked the walls. Those works have now been consumed by the flames ignited by your friends whose vain terrorist cause you are currently espousing. These are artworks from your own Western heritage that we had acquired and cherished.
Perhaps you are not aware, Madam, that the assembly hall of the Egyptian Cabinet building is adorned by a ceiling mural that bears the signature of the French artist Hippolyte Berteaux who painted the murals of the French Senate building not very far from your offices in the French capital.
But are you aware — how could you not be, as the duties of your position require you to be aware — that attacks were also carried out against the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Library of the Biblical Society and the library of the world renowned Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, including its large collection of rare documents and books the value of some of which can never be compensated?
I will not burden you, here, with a complete list of the crimes that have been committed in the past few days against our great civilisational heritage, in the hope that you ask your organisation to compile such a list for you, since this is its duty. However, I put to you that these crimes are, in fact, crimes against humanity, as they constitute a campaign to exterminate the identity of this people as embodied in their civilisational heritage. There is no crime against humanity more heinous than the obliteration of human identity.
Over the course of the past year, the forces of fascism have relentlessly sought to efface the cultural identity of the Egyptian people. They have lashed out against it at times through insult and ridicule and, at other times, through physical destruction. Eventually, that campaign drove artists and intellectuals to rebel in order to liberate one of the bastions of the revolution — the Ministry of Culture — from the tyranny of the Muslim Brotherhood occupation. We heard no voice from you or your esteemed organisation at the time, even though our artists and intellectuals were performing your organisation’s duty of defending cultural heritage.
The defence and protection of cultural heritage — as we have learned from your Western civilisation since the Renaissance — can only thrive in an environment in which religion is separated from politics. Yet, you want us to revert to the Middle Ages in which theocracy ruled and the Church condemned scientists, intellectuals and artists as heretics. Is renaissance an exclusively Western prerogative and not the right of this country that has taught the world the fundamentals of civilisation, culture, thought, the arts and literature? The people of this country rose to safeguard their museum heritage from barbarous assaults during the January 2011 Revolution. They are equally able to protect it today, in 2013, in order to preserve the human identity of this country and to pave the way for the modern civil democratic state for which the revolution was waged and for which much blood has been shed and continues to be shed.
If you lend us assistance, we will welcome it. If you do not, we will not care. But history will, for history does not forget or forgive.
All my thanks to you, Madam.”
28 August 2013