Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Coptic Treasures Get The Home They Deserve.

Mogamaa Al-Adian, Old Cairo's religious compound, is finally free of the roar of trucks and lorries that have blocked the entrance to the Coptic Museum for three years now. And the museum itself, with its limestone façade loosely based on the Al-Aqmar Mosque, has finally opened its doors to visitors in an area the attractions of which include the Mosque of Amr Ibn Al-Aas, the Hanging Church and the Synagogue of Beni-Ezra.

On Monday President Hosni Mubarak formally opened the museum during a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and scores of Egyptian ministers and senior government officials. The president was guided through the museum's 26 galleries, containing 13,000 items, by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni and Supreme Council of Antiquities' Secretary-General Zahi Hawass. They also watched a 15-minute documentary film on the restoration of the museum.
"The restoration of the Coptic Museum was an ambitious project," says Hosni. "It is one of Cairo's oldest museums and its restoration is an illustration of the government's commitment to preserving the nation's Coptic, as well as its Pharaonic and Islamic, heritage."

Over three years, and with a budget of LE38 million, the museum has been comprehensively refurbished. The main body of the museum, which blends Roman and Fatimid forms, was built by Morqos Semeika Pasha in 1910. But by 1992 it had fallen into a state of disrepair, and after the earthquake of that year was closed for safety reasons, leaving only the new wing, added in 1947, open. In 2003 that too closed as the massive overhaul of the museum began.

Hussein El-Shabouri, the consultant engineer responsible for the restoration, says the museum building was in a critical condition when the restoration began. The walls of the old wing had developed cracks following the earthquake, the ceiling decorations were almost indistinguishable beneath the layers of accumulated dirt and much of the mashrabiya at the windows was broken. The floor of the new wing had been partially destroyed by subterranean water leakage and there were no emergency exits.

To rescue the buildings the foundations were consolidated and strengthened by micro-piles, sharply- pointed columns installed beneath the new wing.
To improve visitor flow the two wings have been connected by a corridor and their levels readjusted. A hydraulic lift and wheelchair ramps have been installed for disabled visitors.
The wooden ceilings in the old wing have been cleaned, revealing painted scenes of Venice and Istanbul. And in collaboration with the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE), a team of Italian restorers consolidated, cleaned and conserved the museum's most important frescoes.


At 3:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reposting this because it was ignored, and I think it deserves a response. The impression I get is that Freecopts is not just another vehicle for some Coptic guy to pretend he is the chosen leader and spokesman of the Copts with absolutely no one to answer to. Please don't disappoint us.

I am a big admirer of what you're doing to create a media footprint for free-thinking Copts on the web. That said, there is one thing I find a bit irritating, and that is your promotion of the so-called "Coptic Flag". While the idea of a Coptic flag has much value, the actual flag you are promoting has two major problems.

Number one, it is a very poor design. From a distance, it looks like some sort of Scandinavian flag with a blotch in the middle of it. There is nothing about it that says "Coptic". You would need a magnifying glass to see the crosses at the top of the "Coat of Arms". Only then would one have the slightest clue that this flag represents the Copts. The coat of arms itself is a European device to represent family names and family lore. It is totally inappropriate as a national symbol (unless it is the coat of the ruling family of the nation in question). To make matters worse, the all the lines and squiggles, imbued with contrived symbolism, are an eyesore.

Number two, its provenance is unknown. Who created it? Who approved it or voted on it?

As it stands, this so-called Coptic flag is ugly, un-Coptic, and illegitimate.

A wonderful example of what a good flag might be like is the Assyrian flag:


It is taken directly from Assyrian symbolism, has the general form of a cross, is simple, bold, beautiful, and quintessentially Assyrian. Such a flag would need no committee or vote because its Assyrian-ness is without question.

Here is one candidate from Coptic history:


This is the Coptic squared-circle cross. It's geometry is precise, it's origin the sacred geometry of the ancient priesthood adapted to the fledgling Christian religion. I think a superb Coptic flag would be the Squared Circle Cross surrounded by a continuous, circular sprig of Acacia leaves. Of course, there are undoubtedly other possibilities, as the Copts are blessed with a rich history and many poignant symbols.

At 9:09 AM , Anonymous raif said...

To anonymous,

Please be assured that your posting and opinion were not ignored deliberately, but probably missed somehow. We always welcome all views and opinions, so long they are in a the spirit of working together for the good of Copts and the good of Egypt.

Regarding your opinion of the Coptic flag, I am getting in touch with the person involved in the design. Once I get his reply, it will be posted immediately. Stay tuned.

At 2:56 PM , Anonymous a free copt said...

Dear Anonymous;
Thank you for taking the time to comment on the Coptic flag. Your comment has many valid points worth of the consideration.
As the person in charge of promoting the Coptic flag, I can assure you that the design of the flag was chosen among a dozen others by Coptic activists. It was on a private forum on the internet made exclusively of Coptic activists in Egypt and in the Diaspora. Other flag designs included flags similar in color to the Ethiopian flag, and flags with the symbol of Ankh in the middle. It is certainly impossible to please everyone, so our only option was to go with the vote of the majority. We did not have any other means to decide which flag to pick. As for the fact, of which we are truly aware, that the flag possesses European features, we did not perceive that as a hindering to it representing Copts. After all, we the Copts have had ties with Europe since the time we influenced Hellenic philosophy, early Christianity and medieval art. However, the resemblance between the Coptic flag and some Scandinavian flags is not a unique incidence, for many other non-European flags carry a similar resemblance (flags of Georgia and the Dominican Republic for instance). On the other hand, the Coat of Arms on the Coptic flag carries a great deal of resemblance, in both design and color, to the flags of certain African nations such as Mauritius and the Central African Republic, thus projecting the African component of the Coptic identity. The Coat of arms itself is not a European invention, but rather an Egyptian one. It was in fact an imitation of the Cartouches inside which the Pharaohs used to inscribe their royal names. It is also noteworthy that the Copts are a significant and integral group of the international community, and borrowing ideas from other nations is therefore a totally acceptable notion as long as it is used to highlight our peculiarity. It was after all our Coptic ancestors who borrowed the alphabetical system from the Greeks and used it for their own benefit.
The possibilities for the design of a Coptic flag are limitless. As you correctly pointed out, we the Copts are "blessed with a rich history and many poignant symbols." Therefore any design will indubitably find both proponents and opponents. So as I previously mentioned, we had to go with what most of the people thought was an appropriate flag that represents them. We believe the current flag carries both the Coptic symbolism and the modern design needed to represent the Copts of the 21st century.
Finally, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the main idea behind the Coptic flag is to stir things up and to unite all the Copts in the world under one banner that represents the same cause. We, by no mean, claim to be the spokesmen of the Copts. Our hope is to see all the Copts as one hand helping and assisting one another as they go through hardships and suffering in Egypt. Once this is achieved and some sort of international Coptic forum is elected to represent and speak in the name of the Copts, we will be content to give in the current design of the Coptic flag if the majority believes in its inadequacy. However, for now, we need to stick to the current design, for we cannot afford to keep changing it back and forth following certain objections, legitimate may they be or not.

At 9:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


I appreciate the thoughtful responses to my comments on the Coptic flag, both yours and those of "A Free Copt". I was not aware that the flag was voted on, or that other designs were considered.

I agree that, for now, the assertion of the Coptic Flag is more important than the details. However, the big issue here is transparency, and that applies not just to whole process surrounding the design of the flag, but to everything being done by "The Free Copts". Currently, there is no transparency, as far as I am aware. The public simply does not know the identities of those involved in this site, its content, or its goals.

This is the elephant in the room. Who are you guys? Why are you hiding? Do you plan to go public and, if so, when?

There are many reasons for remaning anonymous that I could personally sympathise with. But by doing so, you are taking a pretty big hit in terms of credibility and level of interest.

At 4:59 PM , Anonymous raif said...


You say:

"There are many reasons for remaning anonymous that I could personally sympathise with"

I could not agree more.

We are not fame seekers or after big positions. We simply want the Copts voice to be heard and their rights restored, and we find that we can do this better if we concentrate on the work and not the personalities. Never mind what my name is, but please come and share with us your opinions and views. I promise to respect them, even though your signature is "anonymous"!!

At 10:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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