Egyptian Tourism Officials Just Moved Four Ancient Sphinxes to a Tahrir Square Roundabout—and Archaeologists Are Horrified

The heat and air pollution in the capital city are threats to the artifacts, experts say.

Ram-headed sphinxes at the Karnak temple complex. Photo: DeAgostini/Getty Images.

In an attempt to boost tourism in Cairo, Egyptian authorities have moved four ancient sandstone sphinxes to a busy traffic circle in Tahrir Square. But experts say the move threatens the condition of the historical artifacts.

Last Saturday, Egyptian authorities announced that they had completed the transfer of the ram-headed sphinxes from Karnak temple in Luxor to the Cairo square. There, the sphinxes joined a 90-ton granite obelisk from the period of Ramses II, which was mounted at the roundabout last year.

Egyptologists have largely denounced the move, noting that the capital city’s heat levels and air pollution will put the the ancient artifacts at risk.

“We oppose this because of concerns over the objects’ safety in the pollution of Tahrir Square and [the threat to] the historical integrity of Karnak temple,” Monica Hanna, an archeologist at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Transport, told The Guardian

Tahrir Square in April, 2020. Photo: Omar Zoheiry/picture alliance via Getty Images.

Tahrir Square in April, 2020. Photo: Omar Zoheiry/picture alliance via Getty Images.

In December, Hanna and other experts filed a joint lawsuit against Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s antiquities and tourism minister, and Mostafa Madbouly, its prime minister, over the move. The case has yet to be resolved in court. 

The Tahrir Square relocations are part of a larger effort to turn the area into a tourist destination, according to El-Enany, whose department helped finance the development project with the Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Communities, and the Cairo Government.

“When we go to European capitals, like Rome or Paris or London, and also Washington, we see that they use Egyptian obelisks in decorating their major tourist squares, so why do we not do the same?” El-Enany told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram

Critics argue that the cultivation of Tahrir Square is meant to erase any evidence of the uprising that took place there in 2011, which led to the end of president Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime.

The unveiling of the newly renovated square—the date of which is yet to be announced—will coincide with the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum near the pyramids and the newly restored synagogue at Alexandria.

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