Tourism in Egypt has dropped sharply under Muslim Brotherhood rule. But the Islamist government has an easy answer to all its problems.
Adel Abdel Sattar, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, in an interview with Egypt’s ONTV channel confirmed the existence of a proposal to offer Egypt’s monuments, including the pyramids in Giza, the Sphinx, the Abu Simbel Temple and the temples of Luxor, to international tourism firm.
There have been reports that the rich Gulf state of Qatar, which strongly supported efforts to oust former president Hosni Mubarak from power, is interested in a deal to exploit Egypt’s most precious historical assets for a period of five years. The return for Egypt would be a substantial amount of money, estimated at $200 billion, enough to pay the country’s national debt and heal its economic woes for years if not decades to come.
Qatar financed the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt, the Libyan Jihad and the Islamist war in Syria. Qatar can just put down an offer for all of Egypt at this point.
There is however something suspicious about this. Renting out the pyramids could bring in some money, but it would doubtfully even bring in 2 billion, let alone 200 billion.
Egypt’s problem is a lack of tourism. Putting the pyramids under the management of foreign companies would mean that Egypt would see less money, not more.
Adel Abdel Sattar is a Syrian with a PhD in Islamic law, but no obvious archeological degree. He is listed as the head of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, not Antiquities, which is a big difference. As Endowments oversees mosques, not pre-Islamic antiquities.
So this could be another episode of Qatar looting Egypt after taking it over, but Islamists also have issues with pre-Islamic artifacts and temples. Some would like to destroy them. And Qatar has been funding Islamists across the region.
The Saudis are notorious for destroying or obstructing archeology in their territory. Qatar has been more open to archeologists but its growing Salafi backing should raise some questions about its real intentions for Egypt’s antiquities. While even most Egyptian Islamists are unwilling to trash the pyramids now, because they bring in lucrative revenues, Qatar would have considerably less investment in Egypt’s national treasures.
And some Egyptian Salafi clerics are speaking openly of doing just that.
Under Qatari management, the Salafis might find that they have inside access to doing to Egypt what the Taliban did in Afghanistan.