Little is known about a major museum being built in the center of Cairo that is meant to be Egypt’s first comprehensive national museum. The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) is supported by UNESCO and was among the major cultural projects adopted by the former regime such as the Grand Egyptian Museum and the Nubia Museum.
The official government statement regarding the museum is as follows:
It is a display of the Egyptian genius in the face of life movement in a successive and related pattern since the dawn of history and till the present time.
In this civilization museum, the most ancient of the world civilization and of most contributions to the civilizational heritage of mankind, antiquity objects are displayed in a special historical order of various ages, and features of their achievements.
Throughout all subsequent stages of the displays, the fact that Egypt was always a pioneer in upholding moral values, philosophical ideas and artistic as well as civil achievements is maintained and confirmed.
This is manifest for instance in the agricultural systems, irrigation,dams building, the state, the army, beliefs, architecture, music, woman, mummification, medicine, everyday life..etc.
Ahram Online reported in 2010 that the “New museum in Cairo will house artifacts from across Egypt to paint a picture of time’s sweep.” It was set to open in September 2011. Needless to say, the opening date has been delayed. Even still, this project initiated over twenty years ago remains shrouded in mystery even as it nears completion.
Developed with technical support from UNESCO, the building, located in EL-Fustat, was designed by the Egyptian architect Dr El Ghazzali Kosseiba and the Japanese interior designer Arata Isozaki.
Hosny described the museum as an exploration of Egypt’s history through an exploration of its people as well as the monuments they built. On display will be 150,000 artifacts selected from museums around Egypt including Cairo’s Egyptian, Islamic and Coptic museums; theGreco-Roman and Alexandria National museums in Alexandria; and the Luxor Museum. Archaeological artifacts kept in storage in sites such as the Giza Plateau and Saqqara will also be put on display. The transfer of these objects will start next week where they will be stored in the NMEC’s vaults until its opening.
The museum will also display the feats and achievements that Egypt history has witnessed over the span of its time. In addition to the chosen collection, the NMEC will house a whole set of monuments, among them the Seboua Temple of Ramses II, now on Lake Nasser; a complete façade of a Fatimid sabil; two columns from King Djoser’s temple at Saqqara; the collection of royal mummies; and the mummy of the ancient Egyptian artist Sanejem which is now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.
The underwhelming design of the massive 100,000 square meter building was completed by Hassan Allam Construction. It isn’t clear who the architect is and how the final design was selected. Also questionable is the positioning of the building in its urban context. There is no relationship established between the new building and its immediate, surrounding or larger geographic context, nor with the main street that leads to it. The building is placed away from the edge of the road and is set in a fenced site, cutting it off visually and physically from its urban context. This is a similar move done with the design of the city’s other mysterious and under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum. These urban design moves make clear that security was a driving force for the design process (if there was a process) and this security-minded approach shows not only on the site plan but also in the architectural design of the museum which mimics a storage facility rather than a public museum.
This museum continues the state’s hegemony over matters of culture and history since the government consolidated its control in the 1960s. Will this be an independent institution with its own board and trustees, funding sources and management? or will it be another government-run institution under the patronage of the Culture Ministry and its officials? Whose narrative of Egyptian civilization will be presented? How “national” is this museum, if the nation doesn’t even know about it nor participated in its making.
For the official narrative (by the state and museum organizers) including over the top heroic soundtrack, watch the following video.