Egypt caves in to widespread stress to show controversial French statue in museum

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Oct 21, 2020

CAIRO — The Suez Canal Authority introduced Oct. 11 the switch of the statue of French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, the person behind the thought of ​​digging the canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, from Port Said governorate to the headquarters of the Suez Canal International Museum in Ismailia governorate. The statue was housed in a marine shipyard on the Suez Canal Authority for greater than 60 years.

The statue was put in on Nov. 17, 1899, on the northern entrance to the canal on the 30th anniversary of the canal’s opening to worldwide navigation. The canal was inaugurated in 1869, however Egyptians eliminated the statue in 1956 following the tripartite aggression towards Egypt; it has been within the warehouse of the authority’s shipyard ever since.

The switch resolution comes following a number of makes an attempt on the a part of the authorities over the previous years to re-erect the statue on the northern entrance to the canal with a view to enhance tourism. However, such makes an attempt have been rejected by Egyptians who consider that the statue is a logo of colonialism that embodies a interval of injustice for Egyptians.

Monica Hanna, dean of the College of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage on the Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Transport, instructed Al-Monitor, “It is true that the government had an urgent desire over the past years to re-erect the statue at the northern entrance to the canal with the aim of boosting tourism, especially considering that the statue is cultural heritage and a testament to an important period in Egyptian history. This desire strongly emerged after the January revolution in 2011 and the clear economic and tourist deterioration that ensued.”

The Egyptian economic system witnessed a big decline in 2011 on account of the decline in tourism and funding revenues within the wake of the demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25, 2011.

On June 23, a number of months after the January occasions, then-Gov. of Port Said Ahmed Abdullah known as for the return of the statue to its base throughout a symposium titled “Port Said’s Revelation of Hope Between Reality and Hope.” The governor mentioned that Port Said wants to search out sights to stimulate tourism, and that guests would need to see the statue of de Lesseps.

The governor mentioned de Lesseps has dedicated some errors, however he has provided benefits that historical past won’t overlook, and these benefits are exemplified by the features that the Suez Canal has achieved for Egypt thus far.

On Aug. 7 of the identical yr, Omaima Wali, director basic of the Egyptian General Authority for Tourism Promotion in Port Said, mentioned, “The authority has strongly called for the return of the Lesseps statue to boost tourism in Port Said, as tourism programs can be set up on the pier named after de Lesseps with appropriate sound and lighting equipment. Also, documentary films about the history of Egypt and the nationalization of the canal could be screened to stimulate tourism in the governorate. We are in dire need for such programs because tourism is one of the components of economic growth in Port Said.”

On Feb. 20, 2014, Port Said Gov. Samah Qandil acknowledged that procedures for the return of the statue to its base had been initiated in coordination with the armed forces, and two different statues are to be positioned to immortalize President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Egyptian farmers.

He famous that the statue’s return to its base can be throughout the framework of a full-fledged panorama that narrates the historical past of the Suez Canal building with the intention of strengthening the bonds of Egyptian-French relations and stimulating tourism.

Hanna mentioned that regardless of the federal government’s fixed efforts to re-erect the statue, it will definitely caved in to widespread stress, particularly from the individuals of Port Said governorate, and determined to accept exhibiting it within the Suez Canal Museum.

She added, “In the end, the value of heritage is determined by the people, and we have often heard about influential historical figures who have been removed in response to the public. This is a recognized fact. Only people own that right, and Egyptians see that de Lesseps killed their children and used them in forced labor throughout years of digging.”

The guide “History of Egypt from the Ottoman Conquest to Before the Present Time,” by Selim Hassan and Omar al-Iskandari, reveals that at least 25,000 unpaid employees dug the canal, and have been changed on a quarterly foundation and suffered tough circumstances. Many of them succumbed to starvation, thirst, warmth, chilly, fatigue and distress, and every time any of them would perish, they’d get replaced by different farmers.

On July 5, 2020, the Egyptian Writers Union issued a press release denouncing the return of de Lesseps statue. The assertion learn, “All Egyptian intellectuals and writers consider this a crime against our heroic Egyptian people and a challenge to the will of our brave people.”

On July 6, member of parliament Mustafa Bakri demanded throughout his speech on the plenary session of parliament the elimination of the statue from Port Said governorate, saying, “He was a colonist and such a statue should not be placed in the valiant Port Said governorate.”

On March 6, 2019, Haitham Wajih Tawila, a human rights activist, introduced that he had filed a lawsuit towards the prime minister, the ministers of antiquities and tradition and the governor of Port Said of their capability to carry off on returning de Lesseps statue to its base and recommended transferring it to a museum as an alternative.

Moamen Othman, head of the museum sector on the Ministry of Antiquities, instructed Al-Monitor the ministry has nothing to do with the choice to switch the statue, and mentioned that the state was behind the choice.

This was confirmed by Ahmed al-Sawy, a professor of Egyptian historical past at Cairo University, who mentioned in an Oct. 11 press assertion {that a} presidential resolution was behind the step.

“Our role was limited to technical supervision during the transfer process, as the statue is cultural heritage that cannot be squandered,” Othman mentioned.

Moamen concluded by saying, “Our role is to protect and preserve heritage, and this has been evidenced by the ministry’s decision to register the statue under the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish monuments, and its decision to fund its restoration in an attempt to preserve, protect and exhibit it in a museum that embodies the history of the Suez Canal.”

On March 3, 2019, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly determined to register de Lesseps statue below the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish antiquities following the approval of the Permanent Committee of Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Antiquities and the Board of Directors of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.