The Ministry of Antiquities is developing new policies to help increase its revenues, reports Nevine El-Aref
With the decline of the tourism industry in Egypt in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution, the Ministry of Antiquities has been suffering from budgetary problems. Its budget is mainly dependent on ticket fees from archaeological sites and museums across the country, as well as touring exhibitions abroad.
The ministry has lost around LE1 billion of annual income, which reached just LE275 million in 2015. Its debts since 2011 have reached almost LE6 billion, as it has had to borrow from the Ministry of Finance in order to pay its employees and work on postponed projects.
Bazaars and cafeterias at archaeological sites and museums have closed their doors because of the decline in tourism, also leading to the loss of a good deal of income.
In order to help solve such budgetary problems the ministry on Thursday inaugurated its first ever replica exhibition at the bookshop of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, inviting a number of foreign ambassadors and cultural counsellors from the United States, France, Austria, Argentina, Italy, Serbia, Australia and Brazil to visit it.
The exhibition will last until the end of July and put on show a large collection of replicas of some of the ancient Egyptian, Islamic and Coptic artefacts in the museum.
Part of the museum exhibition halls has been transformed into a workshop with workmen and artisans carving, drawing, painting, modelling and decorating replicas of Egypt's ancient, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic artefacts, or else hammering pieces of bronze to transform them into necklaces, earrings or bracelets embellished with semi-precious stones.
"During the period of the exhibition, artisans will produce clay, wood and copper replicas to show visitors how the ancient Egyptians made the authentic items," Amr Al-Tibi, director of the Archaeological Replicas Production Unit at the ministry, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He said there was a discount of 20 per cent on replicas during the exhibition days.
The replicas on display were from the unit's production lines, he said, and presented a collection of replicas of the pharaoh Tutankhamun's funerary collection and some of the Egyptian Museum's treasured artefacts.
Among them are a collection of ceramic pots and gravures with foliage patterns as well as Coptic icons and engravings depicting the Archangel Michael and St Paul.
Al-Tibi said that in collaboration with Al-Ahram, the unit was organising a touring exhibition to Japan near the end of this year. "This replica exhibition is the nucleus of the permanent one at the Egyptian Museum. There will be another similar exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in the Bab Al-Khalq area of Cairo," Elham Salah, head of the Museums Section at the ministry, told the Weekly.
She said that upon the reopening of the MIA, the ministry would establish a permanent replica exhibition to display reproductions from the collection of the MIA. A similar exhibition would be created in the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo.
National museums in governorates around Egypt would also exhibit collections of replicas from Egypt's ancient Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic civilisations, she said.
Accompanying this exhibition is another one of books published by the ministry at a discount of 70 per cent until 2012, with 25 per cent reductions available on books published after 2012. The exhibition is designed to encourage reading among people in general and increase their archaeological awareness.
"The goal of the project is to create alternative financial resources to replace the tourism sector's declining revenues, which have dropped to less than LE275 million from LE1.25 billion before the 25 January Revolution," Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany said.
"It will also help raise people's awareness of Egyptian archaeology and the unique antiquities we display in our museums. There was formerly a gift shop in the museum with replicas of the original artefacts, but this shut down following the attack on the Egyptian Museum on 28 January 2011," he added.
The Egyptian Art Revival Centre and the Replica Production Unit have been working hard for years producing a large number of high-quality replicas.
"Unlike other ministries, the Ministry of Antiquities relies on self-funding. This includes profits from ticket sales and books in museums and cafes at archaeological sites. We are trying to come up with innovative ideas in order to fund our various institutions," Al-Enany told the Weekly, adding that other measures included decreasing the rents of bazaars by up to 70 per cent and cafeterias by up to 60 per cent as well as offering facilities to franchise-holders to help them pay their debts.
Reopening the bazaars and cafeterias has provided job opportunities to youngsters, as well as providing facilities to tourists at archaeological sites.
After the approval of the ministry's board, Al-Enany has lowered the fees imposed on those filming for cinema or television at archaeological sites by 50 per cent.
Khaled Al-Manawi, former chair of the Chamber of Tourism Companies and Travel Agencies in Egypt, said the decisions would contribute to promoting tourism to Egypt.
Ahmed Awad, head of the National Cinema Centre, told the Weekly that the decision to lower the film fees would attract more international film directors to come to make their films in Egypt instead of other countries. Some of the latter had built replica cities on ancient Egyptian models to boost tourism and filmmaking, he said.
Elhamy Al-Zayat, chair of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said that Turkey had succeeded in attracting tourism from Arab countries through the popularity of TV series shot at touristic sites.
He said the Egyptian decision would help promote tourism in Egypt, especially in areas rich in archaeological sites like Luxor.
"I have other ideas in mind in order to provide unconventional ways of financing. I think this could be achieved through investment and management services at archaeological sites, such as printing the logos of organisations on the backs of tickets, finding sponsors to organise exhibitions, and publishing ads on the ministry's website," Al-Enany added.