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Egypt Unwrapped

A Crime against Human History

A general view, seen through a bridge barrier, shows the Cairo skyline and the Nile river on December 9, 2012. (PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)

A general view, seen through a bridge barrier, shows the Cairo skyline and the Nile river on December 9, 2012. (PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view, seen through a bridge barrier, shows the Cairo skyline and the Nile river on December 9, 2012. (PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)
It is a crowded place open only to pedestrians, overflowing with tourists of diverse nationalities trying to get a glimpse of Islamic architecture. On the pavement, tourists gather around the small stores selling everyting from souvenirs to jewelry. Others sit in the most famous cafes in Egypt, which serve Egypt’s traditional cuisine, enjoying the breathtaking sunset that lights the mosques and the skyline. Immediately after sunset, a troupe of Egyptian musicians fills the air with music.

This is Moezz Street, one of the most amazing streets in Islamic Cairo, and a place that dates back to the Fatimid era. It has all types of Islamic architecture, including the Moezz Mosque, which is decorated with beautiful Arabic calligraphy.

But this is all a dream—a dream conceived before the revolution. Before 2011, the government planned to renovate the place in order to show tourists precious Islamic sites. However, with the political and social unrest that followed the uprisings that began in January 2011, the plan was shelved. In addition, the whole tourism sector is declining. “To date, nearly every month the tourism sector loses USD 1 billion”, states Professor Amira Mohsen, who specializes in Islamic architecture.

Egypt, the land that once stood at the heart of an ancient civilization, has recently been named by the World Economic Forum as the fourth-worst country worldwide when it comes to safety and security. This has led to a huge drop in Egypt’s tourism, the state’s second-largest source of revenue.

Not only has tourism been struggling, the preservation of historical sites is also in decline. With the Muslim Brotherhood in power, there has been a great deal of negligence. For instance, some Salafists claim that the pyramids and the sphinx are heathen idols and should be destroyed immediately. Will the Brotherhood take responsibility for erasing evidence of thousands of years of human history? Such questions concern both tour guides and professors.

“This is destroying a civilization; it is backward and barbaric and if it were a religious thing then the early Muslim commander Amr Ibn El-Aas would have demolished the pyramids when Islamic rule first conquered Egypt,” said TV host Wael El-Ibrashi in his program.

Vandalism, climate change and rampant commercialism are just a few of the threats facing priceless ancient ruins and historical sites. Abandoning historical sites has become the norm since the revolution. More and more sites are being ruined and quickly forgotten. “Such an attitude toward Egypt’s collection of antiquities and cultural heritage is a crime against human history,” says Mohsen.

Moezz Mosque, for instance, is covered with broken windows and doors, while the street is in need of reconstruction. After the January 25 revolution, Moezz Street was targeted by a number of looters who destroyed the infrastructure and stole lighting units. Moreover, part of the mosque is in danger of collapsing due to water leaks close by. Even worse is the sight of one of its doors half-blocked by garbage. This mosque will disappear if proper action is not taken immediately, wiping out one of the most remarkable pieces of Egypt’s history.

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Rawan Ezzat
Rawan Ezzat is a political activist and a journalism graduate from the American University of Cairo. After participating in the January 25 Revolution, she worked as a researcher for satirist Bassam Youssef and as an intern for Egypt Today.

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