The United States Mission to Egypt believes strongly that Egypt’s antiquities are not only part of its cultural heritage, but also represent an important economic asset that creates jobs and income, Cultural Affairs Officer at the US embassy, Ruth Anne Stevens-Klitz told Daily News Egypt.
“We have invested over $100m since 1995 to conserve monuments and masterpieces spanning the full range of Egypt’s long cultural heritage—from Pharaonic times to the late Ottoman period,” said Klitz, during an interview with DNE, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
Would you please elaborate on US efforts in terms of heritage preservation with Egypt?
Yes, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded conservation and preservation activities not only employing semi-skilled workers from the local population, but also improving the capacity and technical skills of archaeologists to better protect and manage these historic sites for future generations.
Our current activities focus on significant monuments and tourist destinations representing key elements of Egypt’s cultural heritage, including Pharaonic civilisation in Luxor, the Ottoman period in Esna, and Christianity in the Nile Valley in Sohag. The USAID is also working with the government to implement large-scale engineering projects to protect Kom Ombo and Edfu in Aswan, and the Catacombs in Alexandria from rising groundwater.
Additionally, Egypt received substantial funding from the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs through the Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation, to protect its cultural heritage.
Current projects include conservation work at the Seti I Temple in Abydos; conservation of the dome of the Imam al-Shafi’i mausoleum in Cairo; and restoration of Pharaonic wooden coffins at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
In November 2016, Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to sign a bilateral agreement with the US on the protection of cultural property, and our two countries have been working closely together since then to prevent the illicit import and export of cultural property, thereby safeguarding Egypt’s priceless cultural heritage for Egypt’s people.
How many programmes do you have implemented on cultural front? Can you describe their details?
The US Embassy and the US Consulate General in Alexandria present a wide range of cultural programmes in Egypt, ranging from educational exchange programmes and English language programmes to performances featuring visiting American artists. We also welcome Egyptian audiences to the American Centre in downtown Cairo and the American Corner at the Maadi Public Library, both of which offer a wide range of cultural and educational programmes.
Please elaborate on funds allocated to cultural programmes over years?
Because the funds for our cultural programmes come from a variety of sources, it is difficult to estimate the total amount. What I can say is that the US implements more cultural programmes in Egypt than in most countries around the world, which is an indication of the importance we place on strong people-to-people ties between our two countries.
Can you tell us of any upcoming programmes which you will start soon?
Yes, absolutely. We are looking forward to welcoming acclaimed American filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe to conduct workshops and master classes at El Gouna Film Festival’s CineGouna platform for young and emerging filmmakers from Egypt and across the MENA region.
Along with our partners, we are already recruiting for the 2019/2020 ‘YES’ scholarship programme, which gives Egyptian students the opportunity to attend one year of high school in the US, while living with an American host family.
We are also preparing for the arrival of English Language Specialists during this academic year, who will work with NileTESOL, an Egyptian association for English teachers, and other English teachers throughout the country.
Each year, 640 Egyptian teenagers join the English Access Micro-scholarship Programme, which provides intensive after-school English classes for a duration of two years and teaches students about American and Egyptian cultures. We are working with the Ministry of Culture to bring Tony Award-winning American playwright David Henry Hwang to Cairo as a speaker at this year’s Cairo International Festival of Contemporary and Experimental Theatre (CIFCET). Plus, we are looking forward to a workshop in September in partnership with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, bringing together Egyptian and American experts to discuss how to stop trafficking in Egyptian antiquities, and how to bring trafficked items back to Egypt. And that is just for the month of September.
Do you have programmes for people to people exchange? Could you provide details about them, including their importance?
We offer a full range of exchange programmes that send Egyptians to the US, from high school students to post-graduate researchers. The nature of the programmes vary, but all of them aim to increase mutual understanding between Egyptian and American people. Some of the programmes are educational in focus, such as our summer ‘Study of the United States Institutes’ which sends students and scholars to study at American universities. Some are more targeted at professionals, such as our ‘OneBeat’ programme for musicians, or our ‘Teaching Excellence and Achievement’ programme for teachers. Some exchange programmes target English teachers for short-term English language teacher training, as well as American culture. These teachers come back to share what they have learned with their peers in their local communities.
Some of these exchange programme opportunities are administered by partners at the Fulbright Commission and other exchange organisations, and some are run directly by the embassy. The full details for all of our exchange programmes can be found on the embassy’s website.
Beyond our exchange programmes run by the embassy’s cultural affairs office, our colleagues at the USAID also offer a number of important exchange opportunities. With their partners at the US National Academy of Sciences, the USAID promotes collaboration between US and Egyptian scientists to address development challenges and promote economic growth, particularly in applied research and technology commercialisation. The US-Egypt Higher Education Initiative, another important USAID programme in Egypt, provides hundreds of undergraduate scholarships to premier Egyptian and American universities for talented and underprivileged students in fields critical to Egypt’s sustained economic growth. This scholarship programme also provides opportunities for Egyptian professionals to pursue post-bachelor’s degree programmes or professional training courses in the US to develop skills that will strengthen standard business practices in their Egyptian workplaces.