Grand Egyptian Museum deserves better than a soft opening

by Abdellatif El-Menawy

The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry’s announcement that it plans to partially open the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) late this year has created a big controversy. While opponents suggest the partial opening is wrong and will diminish the value of the museum, Antiquities Minister Khaled Al-Anany stated that he is merely implementing the government’s program.
“A soft opening would diminish the value of the project and underestimate it as one of the world’s largest museums. There is no harm in a partial opening for the Museum of Civilization, for example. However, we should wait until the completion of the Grand Egyptian Museum for it to be inaugurated in a grand opening.” This was the first reaction of the person who came up with the idea and put it into practice: Farouk Hosny, one of Egypt’s most important culture ministers.
His suggestion is not very popular among those in the government who are in a hurry and are looking to add a big achievement to their lists, but this is a matter that needs to be discussed scientifically from all sides.
Certainly, professionalism and dedication in work is key to achieving the current most important goal in Egypt: Establishing a modern state on the basis of strict scientific foundations. However, it should also be realized that acting with haste is not accelerating work. Accelerating the work is indeed required and does not oppose scientific standards, while hasty work with the only objective of breaking records or the desire of a mass media presence is just as dangerous as negligence and corruption.
Therefore, it is totally normal that the announcement of the Antiquities Ministry to partially open the GEM by the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019 would cause concern, controversy and apprehension, especially after the fire incident at the museum last week. Thankfully the fire could only consume wooden scaffolding around the building before it was extinguished.

“The Egyptian government would be making a big mistake if it insists on proceeding with its decision to have a partial opening, disregarding the recommendations of experts and specialists.”

Many people, including some important figures, if not the most important in the field, suggested that a soft opening would be wrong and would diminish the value of the museum. Here, the statement of Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s most famous Egyptologist and former minister, comes to mind. Hawass believes “the soft opening is wrong given that the Grand Egyptian Museum is the most important cultural project in the world.” He wondered: “How will tourists visit and enjoy the archaeological pieces of Tutankhamun in the museum with construction works there, not to mention the absence of access routes leading to the museum and the unfinished metro project?”
Hawass suggested postponing the opening until Nov. 4, 2022 — the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, when the GEM will be fully completed.
For his part, Al-Anany said he is implementing the government’s program — a statement that seemed to be more of a commitment to corporate responsibility than an actual conviction. He added that, due to the suspension of the project’s work following the January 25 Revolution, it has become necessary to offer people something that highlights the hard work and credibility of the project.
The Egyptian government would be making a big mistake if it insists on proceeding with its decision to have a partial opening, disregarding the recommendations of experts and specialists and without studying the matter in a serious and scientific way.
Al-Anany confirmed the partial opening does not mean the opening of a small room in the museum, but the opening of 7,000 square meters, with 5,000 artefacts showcased, including the full collection of Tutankhamun. However, it is expected that a soft opening might undervalue the fact that the GEM is one of the world’s largest museums, and would even ensure Egypt loses an important opportunity to revitalize tourism.
The museum’s buildings will eventually cover more than 100,000 square meters, including 45,000 square meters of displays. The remaining areas will include a research center, restoration centers, a library devoted to Egyptology, and a conference room, as well as restaurants, a 3D cinema, gift shops and cafeterias.
The museum project is hugely significant, with Hawass previously saying it was set to bring together the many treasures of the pharaohs. He particularly emphasized the word “treasures,” insisting this is the main philosophy of the GEM and all artefacts must be worthy of this word.
It is unacceptable not to take the time to prepare a proper opening befitting such a project. We must exert enough efforts; we must organize a media campaign in the world’s most prestigious publications; we must organize a propaganda campaign in all museums around the world; we must invite the world’s royalty and presidents to attend the ceremony; and we must find an international company experienced in managing this type of museum to manage GEM along with Egyptian officials.
It is essential not to regress and fall into the trap of hurrying to open the museum.
A further issue concerning the project’s infrastructure needs to be resolved: The transportation leading to the museum. Did the state, represented by its traffic authorities, really design a comprehensive transport plan? I doubt it, simply because the metro project that was set to be a means of getting to the museum has not yet been inaugurated.
For all that has been said and more, I would suggest that the opening be deferred to 2022, until after the museum is fully completed.
So far, the external features of the museum cannot be seen, according to the general-director of the GEM himself, Tarek Tawfik. Therefore, I hope that the proposal for postponement will be accepted by officials, and especially Al-Anany, who gave an unacceptable justification for the partial opening.

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