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Egypt plans ambitious renovation for Cairo museum

Published: Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 2:08 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Hiro Komae)
Guests participating in a tour walk around the Egyptian Museum after its renovation project announcement in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Egypt unveiled Friday an ambitious renovation project for its Cairoís famed Egyptian Museum, in a bid to show that the Arab worldís most populous country was regaining a sense of normalcy after months of unrest. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt unveiled Friday a multimillion dollar renovation project for Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum, including plans to demolish a scorched building that stands between it and the Nile, in a bid to draw tourists back and restore a sense of normalcy after more than two years of unrest.

Organizers said they want to return the dusty 111-year-old museum to its former glory by painting the walls and covering the floors in their original colors and patterns.

The lighting and security systems also will be upgraded to meet international standards, Minister of Antiquities Mohammed Ibrahim said, announcing the plan during a news conference in the museum's leafy courtyard. The displays also will be rearranged, although he did not give details about how.

One of the museum's most famous exhibits, King Tutankhamun's treasures, will be moved to a new Grand Egyptian museum that is being built near the Giza pyramids. It is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Along with the overall tourist industry, the museum has suffered in large part due to its location near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests and frequent clashes since the start of the 2011 revolution that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Violence spiked again after the July 3 military coup that ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

But the interim government that has assumed power is struggling to regain control of the streets and bring back the visitors who long made Egypt a top tourist spot.

Ibrahim said the ministry's revenues, including the entrance fees from tourist sites, fell from 111 million Egyptian pounds in October 2010 to 7 million Egyptian pounds ($1.14 million) in October 2013.

"From Tahrir, on a Friday, we are sending a positive message to the entire world: Egypt is doing well," Ibrahim said on the anniversary of the museum's inauguration in 1902.

Ibrahim also said his ministry planned to demolish the blackened former headquarters of Mubarak's National Democratic Party, which was burned during the anti-Mubarak uprising and stands between the museum and the River Nile, to create a botanical garden and an open-air museum. He said part of the new exposition area could be dedicated to the country's popular uprisings.

The minister declined to give an exact figure for the cost of the project, but said it would likely be at least $4.3 million.

The renovation project is the result of Egyptian-German cooperation. The head of the Culture and Education department at the German Embassy in Cairo, Ramesh de Sliva, said the renovation master plan was financed by the German cultural preservation fund and the Center for International Migration and Development. De Silva said 12 international experts worked on the master plan.

Riots and killings have delivered a severe blow to Egypt's tourism industry, which until recently accounted for more than 11 percent of the country's gross domestic product and nearly 20 percent of its foreign currency revenues.

In August, as violent clashes roiled Egypt, looters made away with more than 1,000 artifacts from the Malawi Museum, in the southern River Nile city of Minya. It was the biggest theft to hit an Egyptian museum in living memory.

During the 2011 uprising, would-be looters managed to enter Cairo's Egyptian museum, ripping the head of two mummies and damaging about 10 small artifacts before being caught and detained by army soldiers. Dozens of items were stolen from the Cairo museum, with some of them being recovered later.

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