Giza pyramid restoration project sparks outrage in Egypt

Government aims to recreate an outer shell of granite on the Pyramid of Menkaure’s four sides, in collaboration with Japan

Egyptians outraged by restoration project at Giza pyramid

Egyptians outraged by restoration project at Giza pyramid
Powered by automated translation

A project to restore the smallest of the Giza pyramids has received mixed reaction in Egypt, with some people doubting the practicality and others outraged.

The project aims to recreate an outer shell of granite on the Pyramid of Menkaure’s four sides, and is a collaboration between the Egyptian government and Japanese archaeological experts.

Experts want to reconstruct the cladding from blocks that are currently scattered around the structure, believed to have collapsed in an earthquake less than a thousand years ago.

It has been described as “the project of the century” by Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Antiquities Council – the body that oversees archaeological projects across the country.

The government hopes that the restoration will boost tourism revenues, one of the cash-strapped country’s most vital sources of foreign currency.

A video on Facebook showed workers placing granite blocks at the base of the pyramid.

But some people reacted with criticism.

Egyptologist Monica Hanna wrote online that “all international principles on renovations prohibit such interventions".

“When are we going to stop the absurdity in the management of Egyptian heritage?” she asked.

Others said the restoration was a waste of money, given the continuing economic crisis.

“The fact that you pay the worst price for the worst internet quality when it is a limited bundle to begin with is more crazy to me than tiling the pyramids,” wrote X user Hozifah on Sunday morning, referring to the 33 per cent increase in internet prices that came into effect on January 5.

But Mr Waziri has been on a charm offensive, assuring Egyptians the restoration project will not use any new materials.

On Saturday he told a state-affiliated talk show, Al Kholasa, that the project only aims to restore the outer casing of the pyramid from its original stones, which are either underground or among many scattered around Giza's pyramids today.

In a phone-in to Al Hekaya, another talk show, he explained that the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre, the two larger ones, were once entirely encased in an outer shell of limestone that also fell over the millennia.

"However, the shell on the third pyramid, that of King Menkaure’s, which was made of granite, did not cover the pyramid entirely, it went up to about 16 rows or about half-way," Mr Waziri said.

“The casing crumbled during an earthquake less than a thousand years ago.”

The project will start with a scan conducted by the Japanese side, which will take one year to complete, Mr Waziri told host Amr Adib on Friday.

The scan will determine which rocks fit into which side of Menkaure’s pyramid.

The initial study of the project will be paid for by Japan, Mr Waziri added.

He deflected the question, when asked by El Kholasa’s Heba Galal whether the state will carry the cost of the project. Egypt's economy has contracted sharply this year.

Alexandria mosque ceiling destroyed

The doubts over the pyramid’s restoration intensified on Saturday and Sunday, after the destruction of the ceiling design of Alexandria’s famed Abu Al Abbas Al Mursi mosque, part of a restoration project undertaken there by the Ministry of Religious Endowments.

However, because the mosque was built in 1933, it is not technically considered a relic under Egyptian antiquities law, which stipulates that a site or artefact must be at least 100 years old before it is treated as an antique.

There has been mounting criticism of the destruction of the ceiling design, which was smashed and packed into sacks, according to Dr Mahmoud Desouky, the head of the engineering committee convened by the government to address the outrage over the project.

A spokesman from the ministry said on Saturday that the decorations would be restored as they were and that it was not "impossible".

“The decorated ceiling of the dome of the Abu Al Abbas Al Mursi mosque were on a layer of gypsum, and corrosion occurred in the iron of the dome’s ceiling as a result of it being saturated with rainwater, which posed a threat to the lives of worshipers,” said the spokesman.

But the municipal government in Alexandria on Saturday said it had not been notified of the restoration and that the private contractor hired by the Ministry of Religious Endowments began working without consulting specialists.

Separately, Hesham Seoudi, the head of the Alexandria division of Egypt’s engineers’ union, said he only learnt of the project after photos of the destruction spread on social media.

The apparent lack of co-ordination between different state bodies on restoring some of the country’s most important relics has left many Egyptians wary of the pyramid’s project.

Many Egyptians were already appalled by the destruction of thousands of Mamluk era tombs at a Unesco-certified mediaeval cemetery in Cairo’s Islamic quarter where some of Egypt’s most prominent figures are also buried, to make way for a government roads project.

Previous government restorations on several Shiite relics in historic parts of Cairo also drew ire from citizens over the significant changes they underwent.

Updated: February 01, 2024, 5:31 AM