Tag: Egypt

Replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb aims to divert tourists from threatened site

An exact replica of the tomb of Tutankhamun is set to be installed near the 3 000-year-old original, in what one of the world’s leading Egyptologists has called a revolutionary development in Egyptian archaeological conservation.

King Tutankhamun is removed from his stone sarcophagus in an underground tomb in the famed Valley of the Kings in Luxor. (Pic: AFP)
King Tutankhamun is removed from his stone sarcophagus in an underground tomb in the famed Valley of the Kings in Luxor. (Pic: AFP)

Officials hope the £420 000 (R6.8-million) project will prolong the life of the original while promoting a new model of sustainable tourism and research in a country where many pharaonic sites are under severe threat.

Tutankhamun’s tomb is one of 63 burial sites in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings. After years of visitors, some have had to close due to damage while others – like Tutankhamun’s – are under threat, with restoration efforts likely to make the problem worse.

“The attempt to fix the tombs to make them visitable is itself now the largest long-term risk to the tombs,” said Adam Lowe, whose Spanish-based firm Factum Arte led and funded the creation of the tomb’s replica under the supervision of Egypt’s supreme council of antiquities.

The project aims to divert visitors away from the threatened original while still giving them the chance to experience what it is like inside. The process could be used to give visitors the chance to experience other sites that are too fragile ever to be opened again.

“It’s revolutionary,” said Kent Weeks, a leading Egyptologist who has been researching pharaonic sites since the 1960s. “It’s not just a way of protecting the tomb of Tutankhamun, but it’s a test case, a model that could be used to protect other sites across the country.”

The project’s leaders acknowledge that visiting a replica will sound less appealing to many than seeing the real thing. But they hope the facsimile, which is indiscernible from the original, will give visitors a better understanding of the tomb.

The original version can only be visited for short periods at a time, making enjoyment of its qualities difficult. But the sturdier replica will be able to accommodate more people for longer periods, allowing them to learn more about why the tomb is special.

Tourism decimated
“The challenge is to get people to visit the facsimile and say: my god, I can’t tell the difference – and what’s more, there are things I can experience in the facsimile that I can’t in the original,” said Lowe.

“We want people going to both, and tweeting and blogging and saying: this is a very interesting moment in the history of conservation, we understand the problem, and the facsimile is better than the original.”

With tourism decimated since the ousting of Mohamed Morsi as president in July, Egyptian authorities hope the new tomb will help bring visitors back to Luxor.

“This is the first build in the Valley of the Kings for 3nbsp;000 years,” said Nigel Hetherington, co-author of a book about the area. “We are essentially replicating a pharaoh’s tomb for the first time ever.”

He said that if was replicated across Egypt’s many other historical sites, many of which are under threat from looting and decay, the project could have other far-reaching benefits.

“It’s a long-term plan that will put Egyptians in charge of documenting their own heritage. With this technology, they’ll be able to scan any of their sites. In terms of building a database, it’s a godsend, and it could safeguard not just the Valley of the Kings, but all of Egypt’s heritage sites.”

The facsimile is said to be one of the most sophisticated replicas ever made. Its creation involved measuring 100 million points in every square metre of the original tomb. Factum Arte used laser scanners to capture the texture, shape and colours of the tomb, before reproducing it with machine-operated blades, some with a width of less than two-tenths of a millimetre.

The process builds on that used to make replicas of fragile caves in southern France, and a high-resolution facsimile of Veronese’s Wedding at Cana.

The tomb’s replica will be installed near the Luxor home of Howard Carter, the legendary Egyptologist. The installation is scheduled to start in December.

“There’s a lot of arguments between conservators and tourism experts about whether replicas will help or hinder tourism,” said Weeks. “But we should be able to show that there is no conflict between the economic needs of the country and conservation needs of the tombs. One can make a much more meaningful visit to the replica than one ever could to the original.”

Patrick Kingsley for the Guardian

Sexual violence in Egypt: ‘The target is a woman’

Randa, a 22-year-old from Cairo, has been dressing as a teenage boy throughout most of her country’s so-far disastrous two-year “transition” to democracy. The medical student thinks it is the only way to avoid sexual assault on the streets during a period of unprecedented abuse.

Randa (afraid of giving her full name) goes for the vaguely preppie American look of tracksuit bottoms, polo shirt, baseball cap and trainers when she joins a demonstration. It means she can blend in with vast numbers of men and run away if anyone sees through her disguise. They seldom do: the anonymity of the crowd combined with the chaos and confusion of disorganised rallies serves her well, and besides, most of the main protests take place after dusk. Glasses and a slight build make her look particularly unthreatening.

“As a young woman who is politically minded, I am an obvious target for the cowards, but not as a weak-looking boy,” Randa said this weekend, just after statistics in a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report pointed to an “epidemic of sexual violence”. Attacks including particularly sadistic rapes have become commonplace in a city that during the Arab Spring was seen as the focal point of enlightenment and progress. Well over 100 women have been seriously attacked since the end of June, usually in a manner that is as arbitrary as it is cruel. One woman required surgery after a “sharp object” was forced into her.

“The only thing that the attackers are interested in is that the target is a woman,” said Randa. “It does not matter if she is young or old, or what her background might be – if you are female you are viewed as someone who is worthy of punishment – these violations transcend politics. They represent innate prejudice and hatred. The real problem is that they are getting worse, and more frequent.”

Volunteers form a safe zone between men and women to prevent sexual harassment during a protest against Mohamed Morsi in Cairo on July 3 2013. (AP)
Volunteers form a safe zone between men and women to prevent sexual harassment during a protest against Mohamed Morsi in Cairo on July 3 2013. (AP)

It would be naive to overlook the drastic increase in crime since Hosni Mubarak, the dictator, was forced out of power in February 2011. Some 51 people were murdered in Cairo on Monday morning alone, during demonstrations against the removal by military force of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Yet there is something particularly disturbing about the rise in taharoch el jinssi – Arabic for sexual harassment – especially as it involves men of all ages and backgrounds. The incidents laid out by HRW are only the very worst ones. Name-calling and random groping are now the norm, to the extent that they are unlikely to be reported. The really harrowing data is offered by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, who say that 99.3% of Egyptian women have suffered some form of sexual harassment.

Women are advised to travel in groups, to carry personal alarms, to make sure that friends and family know where they are at all times and – as in the case of Randa – even to disguise themselves.

Lara Logan, the South African CBS television reporter, brought the issue to worldwide public attention. She was subjected to an assault on 11 February 2011 – the very day that Mubarak was deposed. It lasted around 25 minutes and involved up to 300 men who had been celebrating victory in Tahrir Square itself. After her attack, Logan returned to the US and spent four days in hospital. None of her tormentors was ever brought to justice. The majority of the crimes outlined in the HRW report also remain unpunished.

Highlighting how these kind of sexual assaults are now relatively normal, survivor Hania Moheed told HRW in a videoed interview: “They made a very tight circle around me, they started moving their hands all over my body, they touched every inch of my body, they violated every inch of my body.”

The reality is that many Egyptian men blame women for bringing attacks upon themselves with their conduct in public. Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah, a radical Islamic preacher, suggested women protesting in Tahrir Square “have no shame and want to be raped”. In February 2012, members of the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of Parliament, also blamed women for the assaults being carried out on them in Tahrir Square. One member, Adel Afifi, said: “Women contribute 100% to their rape because they put themselves in that position [to be raped].”

Such comments reflect an arch-conservative belief that women should stay at home with their families rather than engage in the political process – a view that was given official sanction following the election of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, as head of state.

Some have tried to legitimise male “guardianship” by equating gender equality with anti-religious liberalism. Mubarak was a friend to the imperialist US and it was Suzanne Mubarak, the detested and now deposed first lady, who pushed for pro-women legislation, including a wife’s right to sue for divorce and a quota system favouring female election candidates. As the Muslim Brotherhood moved to reverse such measures, these policies became firmly associated with the rejected dictatorship.

Whichever government ends up administering the fledgling post-revolutionary state of Egypt over the next few months, it is unlikely that controlling the abuse of women will be a priority.

Instead vigilante groups such as Tahrir Bodyguard and Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAntiSH) offer to discourage attackers, usually through strength of numbers but if necessary by using sticks and belts. It is a rough and potentially inflammatory form of deterrence, but in a country where almost everybody is becoming a victim of some kind, it is pretty much all women can hope for.

Nabila Ramdani for the Guardian

In Pictures: Egypt #June30 protests

In protests reminiscent of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011, millions of Egyptians took to the streets on Sunday, this time calling for Mohamed Morsi – the country’s first democratically elected president – to resign.

Morsi’s first year in office has been anything but smooth, with opposition activists who supported him during the 2011 revolution now against him for championing the Muslim Brotherhood’s interests over democracy. He has also come under fire for his Cabinet appointments, judicial independence, women’s and religious rights, and his failure to tackle the country’s economic crisis.

The increasing unhappiness with Morsi’s leadership has fuelled a number of protests in Egypt – and his opponents have even tried to send him to outer space.

His supporters, however, are adamant he should be allowed to complete his term which ends in 2016, and say they will not allow a “coup”.

The opposition movement behind Sunday’s protests, Tamarod (Arabic for ‘rebellion’), has given Morsi until Tuesday 5pm to quit, threatening a civil disobedience campaign if he doesn’t.

Anti- and pro-Morsi groups clashed during yesterday’s protests, which is being billed as the largest in history. The young and old, nuns and dogs camped out (a few brought their sofas) across the country. Some spent the night, saying they’ll remain there until Morsi steps down. – AFP, Reuters, M&G

Follow the #June30 and #Egypt hashtags on Twitter, which is abuzz with live updates and photos from protest sites.

Protesters are seen on Monday morning in Tahrir Square in Cairo, where they camped out for the night. (Reuters)
Protesters are seen on Monday morning in Tahrir Square in Cairo, where they camped out for the night. (Reuters)
Some Morsi opponents calling for his ouster sleep outside the presidential palace in Cairo. (AFP)
Anti-government demonstrators calling for Morsi’s resignation sleep outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Sunday night. (AFP)



The crowd in Tahrir Square, Cairo on June 30. (Reuters)
The crowd in Tahrir Square, Cairo on June 30. (Reuters)
Opponents of President Morsi shout slogans while holding a giant Egyptian flag outside the presidential palace in Cairo. (AFP)
Opponents of President Morsi shout slogans while holding a giant Egyptian flag outside the presidential palace in Cairo. (AFP)
Women protest against Mohamed Morsi outside the presidential palace. (AP)
Women protest against Mohamed Morsi outside the presidential palace. (AP)
Supporters of President Morsi in their protective gear as they prepare to protect the presidential palace in Nasser City, Cairo. (AFP)
Supporters of President Morsi in their protective gear as they prepare to protect the presidential palace in Nasser City, Cairo. (AP)


A man walks his dog wearing a sign that says 'Leave' as demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace, calling for Presidency Morsi to resign. (AFP)
A man walks his dog wearing a sign that says ‘Leave’ as demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace, calling for President Morsi to resign. (AFP)


Members of the opposition group Tamarod prepare to head to the presidential palace with a signed petition demanding the departure of President Morsi. (AFP)
Members of the opposition group Tamarod prepare to head to the presidential palace with a signed petition demanding the departure of President Morsi. (AFP)
Egyptian protesters direct laser lights on a military helicopter flying over the presidential palace. (AFP)
Egyptian protesters direct laser lights on a military helicopter flying over the presidential palace. (AFP)
A protester waves a flag over a swelling crowd in Tahrir Square. (AP)

A male-only soapie for Egyptians this Ramadan

On the set of Coffee Shop, a new Egyptian soap opera to be televised next month, there was a decidedly male presence. The director was male, so too the scriptwriter. The producers were also men. The lighting operator was a man, as were the sound team. Weirder still, all the actors were men. In fact, of the 30-strong cast and crew scurrying around the set, not one was a woman.

It is this that sets Coffee Shop apart from the dozens of other soaps that will be aired in Egypt throughout Ramadan, the month-long fast that is also Egypt’s busiest and most lucrative TV season. Specially commissioned multi-episode soaps have been enjoyed by families during Ramadan since the 1960s and are often associated with romantic storylines and female stars. Controversially, Coffee Shop will have neither. Its cast is male only.

“The basic aim of the series,” said Sayed Said, Coffee Shop‘s creator and chief scriptwriter, during a break in filming, “is to show that you can make a good show without depicting naked women.”

Said conceded it was possible to make good television that featured women – “as long as they’re veiled”. But he argued that even veiled women were not a necessary part of his show since Coffee Shop is set in a street café, a largely male environment in Egypt.

Each episode will centre on arguments between two cafe regulars – Amr, an Egyptian patriot, and his friend Sherif, who hankers after a western lifestyle. “Every time Amr ends up being right,” said Said, “and Sherif ends up being wrong.”

‘Different from western ideas’
Said dreamed up the concept after becoming frustrated by the sexualised content of other Ramadan series, which he believes is offensive to Egypt’s conservative population. “I’m just trying to reflect the opinions of the everyday Egyptian citizen,” he said.

“Our idea of art is very different from western ideas,” agreed director Wagdi Elarabi, rehearsing lines elsewhere on set – a real-life cafe in a semi-rural settlement just west of Cairo. “In Europe, Parliaments agree that boys can marry boys. But [here] that is forbidden.”


Men play backgammon on the streets in a public coffee shop decorated for Ramadan in Cairo on September 1 2010. (Pic: Reuters)
Men play backgammon on the streets in a public coffee shop decorated for Ramadan in Cairo on September 1 2010. (Pic: Reuters)

Coffee Shop will be broadcast on al-Hafez, a new channel that caters for Salafists – ultra-conservatives who seek to mimic what they believe to have been the lifestyle of ninth-century Muslims. Last Ramadan, al-Hafez broadcast a reality series that featured teenagers competing to memorise as much of the Qur’an as possible.

“It’s a response to the accusation that the Islamic media is very backward and uncreative,” said al-Hafez’s owner, Atef Abdel-Rashid, of his channel’s output. “We’re trying to show that it is creative and that we understand drama.”

For some, Coffee Shop will be further evidence that Egyptian culture has become more conservative since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The series comes a fortnight after the controversial appointment of a new culture minister, who – supposedly sympathetic to conservative thought – has fired several leading members of the Egyptian cultural establishment. It also follows the opening of a segregated Salafi café in a middle-class district in Cairo, and a segregated hotel in the otherwise westernised resort of Hurghada.

Said believes his show taps into mainstream Egyptian conservatism. “The purpose of drama is to reflect society,” he said, “but in [other Ramadan series] they use sex to sell the shows, and in my opinion that does not reflect Egyptian society.”

But others contested his view. “An all-male show can’t be reflective of society if it doesn’t have any women,” said Yara Goubran, star of a rival Ramadan series next month.

For Goubran, Coffee Shop is also an anomaly amid the wider context of Egyptian television. Just as some artists say they feel freer to express themselves since 2011, Goubran says directors are more prepared to depict liberal lifestyles in Egyptian soaps, which she believes most viewers have welcomed.

“It’s ironic that al-Hafez is emerging at a time when TV drama has never been more liberal, or taken so many risks,” agreed film critic Joe Fahim.

“There’s lots of sexual innuendoes now and themes that touch on sex in a way that would have seemed unimaginable in the past.”

More generally, Coffee Shop‘s deference to religious conservatism comes as another crop of Ramadan series seeks to question the hypocrisy of certain religious conservatives.

Three of this July’s most keenly awaited series (The Preacher, Without Mentioning Names, and The Second Wife) will depict religious figures who abuse their authority for political gain – a plotline that could be interpreted as a veiled dig at the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies, who have weathered similar criticisms from their opponents.

“What al-Hafez is doing is not only futile, but it doesn’t really make any sense,” said Fahim. “Not only do they misunderstand the public, but also they are in complete denial of the reality of the Egyptian street.”

Fahim said that while Islamist groups may have emerged strongest in Egypt’s 2012 parliamentary elections, it did not necessarily follow that the country was culturally as conservative as the parties it voted for.

The week the Brotherhood’s allies were elected, the No 1 film at the Egyptian box office was Haram Street, a sexually charged feature at odds with Brotherhood thought. “The same people who went to see Haram Street voted the Muslim Brotherhood into Parliament,” Fahim argued. “Writers are really pushing the button in a way that would have been unforeseeable in the past – and it’s all happening under the Muslim Brotherhood’s reign.”

Patrick Kingsley for the Guardian

How SpongeBob SquarePants became a hit in Egypt

Stroll the streets of central Cairo today, and two faces stand out. The first is a symbol of resistance; Jika, a teenage protester shot dead late last year, whose likeness has been repeatedly stencilled across the walls of the city centre.

The second is rather less revolutionary. It belongs to SpongeBob SquarePants. The fictional marine sponge, historically found on kids’ cartoon channel Nickelodeon, is now the ubiquitous face of Egyptian tat – printed on everything from hijabs to boxer shorts, complete with spelling mistakes. (In Egypt, where western Bs are often confused with Ps, SpongeBob sometimes becomes a variant of SpongePop.) Name something cheap and tacky, and chances are that someone in Egypt can sell you a Spongified version.

(Pic: Ganzeer / spongebobegypt.tumblr.com/)
(Pic: Ganzeer / spongebobegypt.tumblr.com/)

His appearances have become so frequent that a blog – SpongeBob on the Nile – now documents his Egyptian adventures. Vice magazine was even forced to ponder: “Is SpongeBob SquarePants the New Che Guevara?”.

The explosion started about a year ago, SpongeBob on the Nile’s co-founder reckons. “I remember coming back in June 2012,” says Elisabeth Jaquette, a longtime Cairo resident who had returned from a year in America, “and walking through Tahrir Square, where you used to see T-shirts that said ‘Egypt’ and ‘Revolution’. But that June, half the T-shirts were just SpongeBob.”

Soon the craze spread to other wardrobe items. “Men would ask me for SpongeBob boxer shorts,” says stallholder Yasser Abdel Moneim. To meet demand, Abdel Moneim now sells three different SpongeBob pant designs – sourced from China – including one that overlays the sponge with the unlikely logo of Calvin Klein. “It’s still the thing that sells out first.”

(Pic: Patrick Kingsley/spongebobegypt.tumblr.com/)
(Pic: Patrick Kingsley / spongebobegypt.tumblr.com/)

Egypt is not the only country to have taken to SpongeBob. Jaquette’s blog memorably shows someone celebrating the Libyan revolution dressed as SpongeBob. But Jaquette argues: “People are reproducing it in ways that are very distinctly Egyptian; there are traditional hand puppets that have SpongeBob on them, tissue-box covers – a very Egyptian thing – with SpongeBob designs.”

How this all started, no one really knows. SpongeBob is shown on a private Egyptian channel, but most won’t have watched much of it. Whatever Vice‘s headline implied, SpongeBob doesn’t have any political resonance. One theory is that SpongeBob’s success is symptomatic of the way that urban space has changed in Egypt since the 2011 uprising. After the revolution, a breakdown in law and order made it easier for street traders to set up shop in city centres – a phenomenon that may have led to higher sales of Spongebob tat.

Jaquette, however, isn’t convinced. There may have been fewer vendors before the revolution, she says, “but there has always been one shirt or other that has been popular”. For now, SpongeBob’s presence is everywhere – but it may not be for ever. At the height of his popularity, Tahrir vendor Mostafa Hamed sold 30 SpongeBobs a week. But this week? Just three.

Patrick Kingsley for the Guardian.