Recently we celebrated the fourth annual Festival of Archaeologists at the Cairo Opera House. I began the idea four years ago of having a day to celebrate the achievements of Egyptian archaeologists, and making a place for them to meet together and with their foreign colleagues.
I chose the date of January 14th to hold this celebration because it is the anniversary of the date in 1953 that Mostafa Amer became the first Egyptian to be named the head of Egyptian antiquities. This marks an important moment in Egyptians gaining authority over their own heritage, so I decided it would be the best date, and we hold the celebration at the Opera House in Cairo, which is a very beautiful space.
Now we meet on this day every year, beginning at 7 pm, with a 15-minute film talking about all the projects that Egyptian archaeologists are running. These include museums and site management programs for pharaonic, Coptic, Jewish, and Islamic sites and monuments, as well as training programs that we are implementing.
Then I give a speech about the progress Egyptian archaeologists have made, and this year was very special, because for the first time, my dear friend Omar Sharif came to address the archaeologists. He gave a very nice speech and he introduced me. I spoke about what Egyptian archaeologists have gained in the past few years, especially since I became the head of antiquities. Salaries have been increased, we are making a social club for archaeologists, and we have also increased the retirement benefits greatly. This year we are also getting good health insurance for everyone. There is no comparison to how things were in the past, now salaries are very high, and young archaeologists can make a good living, while in the past it was not a well-paid profession. Now Egyptians are able to travel outside Egypt with exhibits, but people are chosen by their qualifications and seniority, not their connections. We are also encouraging Egyptian archaeologists to publish their work in academic journals, for example the “Annales du Service des Antiquities de L’Egypte.” I also reward the Egyptian archaeologists on the day of the Festival with a bonus.
This is the fourth year of the festival, and I was planning on saying goodbye in my speech, as I was planning to retire in May. However, thanks to President Mubarak, who appointed me Vice Minister so that I would not have to retire, I can now complete all of the projects that I began. After my speech, we honor great Egyptian archaeologists who have died. This year we honored Abdel Moneim Abu Bakr, who was a professor of Egyptology at Cairo University, he taught me when I was an archaeology student at the University of Alexandria.
We also honored Mohammed El-Saghir, who was the director of antiquities in Upper Egypt for a long time. Nassif Hassan was chief inspector of the pyramids for a long time, and I worked with him as his second for a while, he was a very nice man. We honored Kamel Malekh, who found the boat of Khufu, he was a good friend of mine and encouraged me when I was younger. He went on to edit the last page of the Al-Ahram newspaper after he discovered the boat. After we remember those who came before us, we honor people who are working now in projects throughout Egypt.
This year we honored people like Ahmed Salah, who was the head of restoration, and also my friend Ali Radwan, who has done a lot for Egypt. One of the most important aspects of the Festival is honoring guards who have done good work, the directors of workmen on excavations, and others whose work deserves notice. The most interesting award I gave this year was to Mohammed Abdul Razzik, who was the chief of the guards at Giza. When I was searching for the tombs of the pyramid builders, and I was working with my friend Mark Lehner, our season ended without discovering anything. But in August 1990, an American tourist was riding a horse when it tripped over a mudbrick wall on the plateau, and Mohammed Abdul Razzik came immediately to inform me about the accident. When I came and saw what had been found, I said this must be the location of the tombs of the pyramid builders, and I came to one of my most important discoveries. I said all of this in my speech, and then Mohammed Abdul Razzik came before 1500 people as a hero, and there were 500 more people outside who could not fit in the Opera House.
After the awards were distributed, the Opera House presented part of the Opera Aida for the guests, and it was a very beautiful performance. I hope that this Festival of Archaeologists will continue every year, that we might not forget the important contributions of Egyptian archaeologists to our field.
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Posted By: Shaimaa Ahmed