WATANI English Section
27 February 2000
Translator: Samia / Copy editor: Caryll/Jenny
Word Count: 558
A base for a museum
Dr Gawdat Gabra
That Germany should house two centres for Coptic heritage is a tribute to
the dedication of the Coptic community in Germany and the pride it takes in
its Coptic roots. Compared with Coptic communities in the United States,
Canada, Australia, or even in some European countries, including the United
Kingdom, the Copts in Germany are a small community. Nonetheless, they
have managed to establish two important centres for Coptic heritage outside
The first is the Monastery of the Holy Virgin and St Mauritius in Höxter,
consecrated a few years ago by Pope Shenouda III. It was handed over to
Bishop Dimian in 1994 as a desolate monastery, abandoned 200 years earlier
by its Catholic monks. When it became the property of the Coptic Church in
Germany, Bishop Dimian made a remarkable effort to save the beautiful
13th century building. He brought in Egyptians skilled in monasterial
restoration, mainly from Anba Bishoy’s Monastery in Wadi Natrun, who
performed the extremely delicate restoration work with meticulous care,
preserving the original style.
The monastery is now an attractive tourist site. Visitors come to admire the
Gothic architecture, the Coptic icons, and the huge iron gates with their
Coptic cross motifs, wrought so skilfully by Egyptian blacksmiths. It is
gratifying that the Organisation for the Preservation of Heritage in Germany
nominated this monastery for the International Restoration Award at the
Hanover Expo 2000.
The Coptic Museum is the other centre for Coptic heritage in Germany. It
stands at the entrance of a former army base in Kassel in Nordrhein-
Westfalen, one of the most beautiful spots in Germany, where valleys,
woods, and hills intermingle. The site was once a camp for Allied troops
stationed in Germany following World War II. When these forces withdrew
from Germany in the early 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the
reunification of Germany, the Coptic Church purchased the large base and
its 33 buildings. The Church converted the area into a Coptic Cultural Centre
within a Coptic Village. In stark contrast to the former military site, it now
radiates peace and harmony.
The nascent museum now houses a small collection of Coptic art, donated
by Germans from their private collections, but it faces the problem common
to many new museums: the exhibits are too few to fill the premises. Such
museum collections usually grow through donations from the private
collections of art lovers, through grants, or through permanent or temporary
loans of works of art, where collections are exhibited during the owner’s
lifetime. I thus invite all expatriate Egyptians to support this museum by
donating cash or art. The museum badly needs items such as Coptic textiles,
pottery, incense burners, crosses, manuscripts or hand-written pages from
old volumes, tombstones and stone friezes or cornices, in order to attract
lovers of Coptic heritage and civilisation.
The local authorities in Höxter have already secured the funds required for
Coptology Professor Dr Lucia Langener to catalogue the present museum
collection in German. This German catalogue will be translated into English
and French, and the author will contribute the Arabic translation.
By enriching this Coptic Museum with more works of art, and by supporting
it in order to showcase the collection in the best way possible, we are
performing a service to the magnificent heritage of Egypt in general and
Coptic Egypt in particular. Hence the importance of supporting Bishop
Dimian who, in his sincere and dedicated efforts, and through his
experience, awareness, and fluency in German, was able to recruit German
support for this remarkable project.
WATANI English Section
22 April 2001
Writers: Donia and Marina / copy editor: Samia/Jenny
Word count: 1158
Daughter of the sun
Interest in safeguarding and immortalising the precious heritage and legacy
of ancient civilisations, even those which have not as yet divulged all their
secrets, is escalating. The museum of Nubian antiquities set up two years
ago in Aswan lies symbolically on the banks of the River Nile as it winds its
course through rocks and waterfalls. The museum displays the successive
civilisations which Nubia has witnessed over time, starting with the
prehistoric and Pharaonic ages and going on through the Coptic and Islamic
eras until modern times. It highlights UNESCO’s efforts to rescue the
Nubian monuments, and also delves into Nubian customs and traditions. The
museum is divided into halls, each showcasing the most important aspects of
each epoch. The first hall represents the prehistoric era. The first fanciful
attempts to engrave scenes of the surrounding environment on rocks proved
man’s early mastery of three-dimensional art. Elephants and giraffes, human
figures and natural scenery are all depicted. The tableaux are unprecedented
as far as drawing and free formation on rocks are realised, and posses a
unique aesthetic dimension.
Also on display is a human skeleton and depictions of Nubian burial rituals
which date back to the beginning of dynastic age. The Pharaonic era is
shown in another hall, affirming that Nubia was once the apple of the
Egyptian Pharaoh's eye. Its importance sprang from being southern Egypt’s
portal to African trade relations. In the hall one can see the first registered
Egyptian attempts to explore new horizons. Formational art aspects are
manifest in a set of human and animal statuettes. The hall reflects the
influence other foreign civilisations that appeared in lower Nubia, such as
the Kush state civilisation, which afterwards became a kingdom similar to
the Theban kingdom in Upper Egypt and the Hyksos civilisation which
flourished in the Delta.
In the main exhibition hall, there are antiquities of such great Egyptian
Pharaohs as Ramses 11. These relive the deep-rooted and glorious past and
old military victories, such as the victory over the Hittites at the battle of
Qadesh. There is also a hall for antiquities of the Graeco-Roman era, during
which there was an obvious economic boost that had its impact on the
apparent prosperity of the Nubians. This is clear in the bronze, jewellery and
pottery crafts which appeared at the time and the ornamentation in which the
Nubians adopted Egyptian, Greek and Roman elements. A strong Roman
influence has been found in columns, capitals, pottery, wooden boxes inlaid
with ivory, glass receptacles and silver objects inlaid with precious and
semi-precious gems. Christianity evidently replaced the old Pagan beliefs in
Nubia. Nubia during the Coptic era, throughout the eighth and ninth
centuries, enjoyed an unprecedented period of welfare. Many of the temples
were turned into churches. Articles in the exhibition include coloured mural
tableau from tenth-century churches depicting a saint sitting on a chair, a
painting of the Archangel Michael blessing a man, and a scene in which only
a foot of a man appears trying to mount a horse. In front of the latter a man
stands inside a receptacle on which was written in Coptic: My Lord, have
mercy upon me! This could mean that the man had been exposed to torture.
+Intermingling of religion+
After Islam entered Nubia, the Islamic culture strongly intermixed with the
Coptic. There are models of clothes and furniture with long ribbons adorned
with animal or plant embellishments in the form of birds and hares dating
back to the Mamluke epoch. There are also Kufic scriptures on tombstones
made of sandstone from Fatimid, Abbasid and Ikishid times. There are
household utensils such as wooden or ceramic receptacles, spinning and
dyeing tools and a checkers game of wood inlaid with silver and ivory with
15 ivory and 15 ebony pieces. The game looks like the modern chess game.
A special hall is dedicated to an irrigation project carried out in the 19th
century. The hall has illustrated pictures of the first Aswan dam. Egypt is
divided into five irrigation sections, three in the Delta and two in the upper
Nile Valley. The pictures demonstrate the use of water-lifting apparatus,
including the ++shaduf++. This represents the first appearance of crop
irrigation mechanisation. The ++shaduf++ was created in the 18th Dynasty,
while the water wheel or ++saqieh++ appeared at the beginning of the
Rtolemaic era. Worth noting is that the Nubians learnt about the ++saqieh++
only at the beginning of the Christian era. The ++shaduf++, incidentally,
proves how good ancient Egyptians were at illustrative art. There are also
modern pictures of the High Dam and the history of the building of the
Aswan Dam at the hands of the British engineer Sir William Wilcox.
Another hall is allotted to the international effort to rescue Nubian
monuments, which had been threatened with submersion three times before
the building of the High Dam. These efforts continued for nearly 20 years,
and were undertaken by 40 foreign archaeological missions. Scientific
studies were conducted at the sites. The hall contains photographs and
drawings illustrating the rescue of both Abu Simbel and Philae temples. As
for the most impressive hall of the museum in both form and content, this
has to be the Nubian folklore legacy hall where Nubian folkloric forms and
expressions are diversified in the form of statues incorporating popular
Nubian traditions and conventions, such as the practice of using henna,
adorning the bride and the collective dance in which men and women
participate. There are also statues of children receiving their schooling in the
+Home grown crafts+
An area is allocated to quasi-primitive Nubian crafts such as baskets and
mats made of palm leaves—date palms constitute a complementary part of
the Nubian environment. Natural panoramas painted by Nubian artists
depend on the palm as a main element in the landscape. One may notice that
such crafts depend completely on women, who start their training at a very
early age. There is also cotton and wool weaving on looms. Nubian art
reflects unique cultural particularities, which include popular and magical
symbols and beliefs appearing in tattoos and in the mural paintings that
decorate house façades and entrances. Paintings of scorpions, eyes, triangles
or braids of artificial pearls, sea shells or hair reflect the Nubians’ beliefs
and practices concerning the combating of evil and protecting themselves
These decorative elements frequently carry expressive or magical
indications. The sword symbolises heroism and courage: the crescent, the
star and the black cat suggest optimism; while the crow and the owl are
symbols of ill-fate and dilapidation. Flowers symbolise friendship and love,
while the apple represents feminine temptation. The chameleon incorporates
capricious and iridescent morals. The turtle represents laziness. As for the
pitcher and prayer rug, they symbolize purity and chastity. Through the
exhibited articles, the folkloric art of Nubia may prove the means for the
Nubians to hold on to a record of their historical identity.
WATANI English Section
20 October 2002
Translator: Donia / copy editor: Samia/Jenny
Word count: 167
++ Counting the Years++
Because of his remarkable impact on the Egyptian cultural field during the
second half of the 20th century, the private collection of the Egyptian
filmmaker Shadi Abdel-Salaam (1939–1986) will go on permanent
exhibition at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria. The collection on
exhibit includes some of Abdel-Salaam's set designs as well as his priceless
library of 13,000 books on various subjects: culture, art and the cinema.
Abdel-Salaam’s personal items such as furniture and a number of his many
medals and prizes will also be on display, together with a special corner for
memorabilia used in his famous film ++The Night of Counting the Years++,
such as sketches and a sarcophagus.
Abdel-Salaam was a wardrobe and set designer as well as a film-maker. He
cherished the ancient Egyptian civilisation and was dubbed "the Akhenaten
of his age". For several long years before his death he was busy preparing a
film on Akhenaten, writing the screenplay and designing garments, jewellery
and sets, but the film was never made.
WATANI English Section
3 November 2002
Translator: Donia/Marina / copy editor: Jenny/Samia
Word count: 1306
A figure of light
• Taha Hussein was born in Upper Egypt. He lost his sight at the age of
• He is the doyen of contemporary Arabic literature and a pioneer of
• His education began at the hands of the teacher of the village
++kottaab++ (small primitive school where children were taught to
read, write, do rudimentary arithmetic and learn the Holy Book). He
went on to study at al-Azhar – the ancient Islamic institute of Cairo –
and then to the Sorbonne in Paris on a scholarship. In Paris he was
first exposed to the wide world of western and global thought. He met
and married his wife of a lifetime, Suzanne.
• In 1914 he earned the first doctorate granted by an Egyptian
University, and in 1918 he obtained a second PhD in Social
Philosophy from the Sorbonne in Paris.
• In 1919 he was appointed a professor of history at the Egyptian
University. He did not confine himself to political and constitutional
history, but transferred to his students his knowledge of the Greek
philosophers and dramatists such as Sophocles and Aeschylus
• He was granted honorary doctorates from the universities of Oxford,
Madrid, and Rome
• He assumed office as Minister of Education in 1950, when he was
able to put his motto "Education is like the water we drink and the air
we breath" into practice. Under his ministry, elementary and
secondary education was made available to Egyptians free of charge
• The greater part of Taha Hussein’s canon is basically influenced by
Greek culture. He issued ++Selected Pages from Greek Dramatic
Poetry++ (1920), ++The Athenian System++ (1921) and ++Leaders
of Thought++ (1925. The link between his Arabic culture and that of
Greece was a focal point of his philosophy.
• The first book was an incomplete attempt at an account of Greek poets
and their works. The second was a meticulous translation of one of the
most important texts of Greek history of civilisation. Hussein dealt
with the religious impact on thought in the Middle Ages, then moved
on to the Modern Ages of multi-cultural influences.
• Hussein waged many battles for enlightenment, respect of reason and
thought, and women’s emancipation. The first of these was in 1926
when he issued ++Pre-Islamic Poetry++, which was highly
controversial in both political and literary circles, and aroused
widescale front-page arguments in newspapers. Hussein argued that
he had adopted a modern scientific method of approach in his treatise
on Pre-Islamic poetry, according to the school of the French
philosopher Descartes in his reasoning in search of the truth.
Today Egypt commemorates Taha Hussein (1889-1973) as one of the most
prominent figures of Egyptian enlightenment and contemporary cultural.
+ ++Ramatan++ +
In recognition of Hussein's achievements for Egypt, the State has purchased
his residence ++Ramatan++ in Giza, near the Pyramids and converted it into
a museum. ++Ramatan++, which literally means in Arabic ‘two places of
rest,’ as in oases where travelling caravans stop to rest, was originally
designed with two separate entrances. It had been Hussein’s wish that his
son, Dr Mo’nes, share his residence, so he had the house so designed with to
preserve the privacy and freedom of each.
The museum or "Ramatan" includes two floors. The ground floor houses
Hussein's study and part of his 7,000-book library, and a large reception hall
where he received men of letters, politicians and artists every Sunday
evening. In one of the corners of this hall stands a piano, a gramophone and
records of musical works by Schubert, Verdi, Bach, Mozart and Schumann.
The top floor contains three bedrooms and a small hall with a closet
enclosing the decorations, medals and orders he received in his lifetime.
In the 1,301-sq. m. garden is a bust of Hussein by the Egyptian sculptor
Farouk Ibrahim. Another bronze bust of Hussein by Abdel-Kader Rizq is
placed at the entry of the ground floor. A smaller building designed in the
same style of the villa has been converted into a cultural centre which will
be used for seminars and cultural exhibitions to keep Hussein's legacy alive.
+Sunday Salon gatherings+
The reception hall on the same floor was where Hussein would receive his
guests − mainly intellectuals − every Sunday to discuss ideological and
literary issues. Members of the Arab Language Council – of which Hussein
was head – used also to meet there when Hussein could no longer go out
frequently in his later days.
This room, known as the ++Sunday Salon++ contains sofas, chairs,
Pharaonic statues and paintings, many from south of Italy. There is a
splendid painting representing Old Cairo, as well as portraits: one of his
wife, Suzanne, and the other of his daughter Amina. Celebrities from Egypt
and all over the world visited this salon. Among them were the Spanish
ambassador, who presented Dr Hussein with his honorary doctorate from
Madrid, and the Italian ambassador who gave him a doctorate from the
History Academy in Rome. In this room Dr Hussein received the president’s
deputy who honoured him with the Collar of the Nile, the highest Egyptian
decoration which is normally only presented to kings and state presidents.
+An act of robbery+
On one occasion the Nile medal was among the things lost during a robbery
at the villa. However, when the thief learned from the papers that it was
Taha Hussein’s villa he had robbed, he immediately returned all the stolen
In this hall, Hussein received well-known foreign authors, among them an
Iranian scholar who, before shaking hands, recited the first chapter of ++Al-
Ayam++, Hussein’s autobiographical masterpiece. He only stopped his
recitation when Hussein joked to his visitor that he already knew the rest of
the book by heart.
A dining room furnished with a round table, a sideboard and paintings
adjoins the salon.
+The second floor+
There are six rooms on the second floor, including he bedroom of Mo’nes,
Dr Hussein’s son, who now works for UNESCO in Paris. Next is the music
room which contains classical and European music tapes. The museum is
planning to put these files on tape to be played at parties held in the
museum’s garden, and named ++Music Taha Hussein loved++. After this
comes Suzanne’s room, which includes simple French furniture and an icon
of St Mary, a present from Hussein, as well as paintings by French artists.
Next to this room is Hussein’s bedroom, furnished in a simple French style.
The fifth room is the living room, where Hussein would meet close friends,
and which contains a portrait of Mo’nes and a half statue of his daughter
Amina. The last room is now used by museum staff.
+Medals on show++
The walls of the corridors are decorated with ++Kabaa++ covers. The
honorary medals Hussein received are on shelves, among them a metal ring
on a wooden slate, a prize for human rights which the UN conferred on him
in 1973 shortly before his death his death. There is also the Order of the
Republic, the Collar of the Nile, conferred on him in 1965 and now restored
after its aborted theft.
+Reviving the memory+
The Ministry of Culture is planning to establish an additional two-storey
building for cultural activities. Taha Hussein’s writings in the periodicals,
newspapers and magazines of the day, his speeches and interviews broadcast
on radio and television all over the world will be amassed in an information
centre as a reference for scholars. A musical library will be part of these
renovations so the tapes and CDs will be protected from damage or loss.
There will be annual literary and artistic competitions, as well as museum
Egypt thus hopes to immortalise its son Taha Hussein, who was able to his
transcend both his affliction with blindness and his humble upbringing, and
move on towards helping bring Egypt to the doorstep of enlightenment and
WATANI English Section
4 January / 16 July 2003
Compiled by: Samia / copy editor: Jenny
Word count: 535
Tribute to an immortal queen
As Cairo celebrated its national day earlier this month, a statue of Umm
Kulthoum, the Egyptian diva aptly named ‘the star of the orient’ and the
‘queen of Arabic singing’ was unveiled in Zamalek, Cairo, where she had
The 6-metre statue is a gift of Coptic public figure Nabil Luqa Bibawy. Born
in a small rural village east of the Damietta branch of the Nile Delta, at a
date that is not known for certain, but the most reliable suggestion is May
1904, to a poor family, her career started with her early chanting of the
Qur’an with her ++imam++ father. Her strong warm expressive voice turned
her into the most famous singer in the Arab world—her concerts, held
regularly on the first Thursday every month, kept people from Kuwait to
Morocco in their homes tuned to the radio. She died in 1975.
The voice of Umm Kulthoum still echoes in Cairo.
To commemorate the immortal role played by the queen of Arab singing in
enriching the Arab and Egyptian ethos, and in appreciation of her genuine
art, for her noble national and human behaviour and the valuable heritage
she left, both personal and public, the Ministry of Culture has set up a
museum which opened in December 2001. Plans for the museum, conceived
as a cultural and artistic lighthouse symbolising her prolific creativity, had
been ongoing since April1998.
+Epitome of glamour and style+
Appropriately for one who epitomised glamour and style, Umm Kulthoum’s
museum has been set up on Roda Island on a riverside site in one of the
buildings annexed to the Manasterli Palace. The palace is set at the western
tip of the island, on a spot known as al-Miqias (literally, the measurement)
owing to the famous Nilometer which stands beside it and acts as a tourist
attraction. The Manasterli Palace itself is one of the city's most important
historical monuments. An architectural masterpiece built in 1851by Hassan
Fouad Pasha al-Manasterli, a senior official in the reign of Abbas Helmi I
(1850-1854), it reflects the sumptuous decorative style of its age. It is with
this rich background that Umm-Kulthoum’s memorial now stands.
Since the first committee set up to acquire the belongings of Umm
Kulthoum was formed on 5 May 1998, efforts have been underway to collect
as many of her personal articles, gifts and souvenirs as possible. The
committee asked her family, friends and admirers for objects which will
enrich the museum and reflect Umm Kulthoum’s taste and her vision of art
The committee is still adding to its collection, combing all sources and
sparing no effort to obtain items under the supervision of the Cultural
Items already obtained include personal objects such as clothes, ornaments,
handbags, shoes and other personal articles. Other objects are artistic—her
lute, her musical notes, rare recordings and films.
A third category covers letters exchanged between the late singer and
dignitaries of the era—politicians and public figures—as well as
photographs and memoirs. There are also medals presented to her by Arab
governments, and other documents and mementos from celebrities in the
field of art who played a great part in the life of Umm Kulthoum.
WATANI English Section
15 June 2003
Compiled by: Samia / copy editor: Samia
Word count: 239
New museum for Egyptian treasures:
The winning design
Egypt has unveiled the design of a grand new museum to house its wealth of
+Ready for 2007+
To be built into a desert hillside on an area of 117 feddans, 2km from the
Giza Pyramids, it will be the biggest museum in the world. It is expected to
exhibit some 100,000 pieces taken from the storerooms and displays at
Cairo's 100-year-old Egyptian Museum, which has been internationally
criticised for its poor labelling and jumbled layout.
Minister of Culture Farouq Hosni told a press conference last Monday that –
at the cost of an estimated $350 million – the new museum will be jointly
financed by foreign grants and the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and soft
loans if necessary. Work is expected to get underway this year, and it is
expected that the new museum would be completed in 2007.
Last Monday, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak distributed the awards of the world
competition which had been organised by the Culture Ministry to design the
Egyptian Grand Museum. An international jury had chosen as the winning
design that of Shih-Fu Peng of the Dublin firm Heneghan Peng Architects.
The design is modern, with triangular panels on the front and roof, mirroring
the shape of its near neighbours, the ancient pyramids at Giza.
The first prize won by the Irish architects stood at $250,000; two Austrians
won the second prize worth $150,000 and an Italian won the third, worth
13 June 2004
Compiled and edited by Samia
Word count: 476
A collection of 38 pieces of ancient Roman jewellery—36 bracelets and two
rings, all made of gold—are missing from the National Egyptian Museum,
secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawwas
announced last Sunday. The jewellery was unearthed in 1905 in an area
known as Apollo’s Hill in Beheira, west of the Delta, and was
last recorded as part of an exhibit which returned from Japan in 1984.
The announcement comes two weeks following unconfirmed media reports
that 38 gold pieces from King Tutankhamun’s treasures had gone missing.
Hawwas strongly denied that any of Tutankhamun’s treasures was missing,
and said that the jewellery may have been lost in the museum basement as a
result of “negligence or administrative reasons related to participation in
“The next few days will clarify matters, he said. A committee will review all
60 000 items in the museum, particularly the ancient jewellery section and
the King Tutankhamun treasure.” If it is discovered that theft was the cause,
“it would have taken place before 2000 when an advanced security system
was installed at the museum,” he said.
“I referred all papers to the district attorney to find out about the case, but I
personally believe that the bracelets are in the museum,” he
said, blaming the disappearance on poor curatorship.
Egypt is about to begin a painstaking five-year task of cataloguing and
restoring some 90,000 Pharaonic and other artefacts which have lain almost
forgotten for decades since they were dug from ancient ruins.
Hawass said last Sunday said that, since about three weeks ago,
the artefacts in the basement of the Egyptian Museum are being moved into
storage elsewhere. From there they will be recorded, photographed and
restored if necessary—a job which will take a good five years.
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo boasts a stunning array of antiquities,
including the death mask and other artefacts of the boy king
Tutankhamun, but the display of the a vast collection is poorly labelled and
+No one knows+
Hawass said that the more than 100-year-old museum had been the store for
most finds from archaeological digs since it was
built, but poor curatorship meant items were often difficult to find or lost
amidst the piles of boxes.
“The museum basement is a maze of corridors, he said. No one knows
anything about it.” While the artefacts are being catalogued, the basement
will be renovated so the items can be properly stored on their return. The
renovation will enable the museum to reduce the size of its permanent
display to improve its design, Hawass added. We are going to have a
basement like that of the British Museum, where you can put numbered and
catalogued artefacts. For the first time, we will train the curators to
understand what is the meaning of curatorship,” he said.