Egypt says restoration of oldest pyramid on track

Mamdouh el-Damaty decried recent media reports alleging that the Djoser pyramid might collapse

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Egypt’s antiquities minister took journalists inside a 4,600-year-old pyramid on Tuesday to reject recent accusations of mismanagement at the site as false and “without evidence.”

At a press conference at the Saqqara pyramid complex, some 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Cairo, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty decried recent media reports alleging that the Djoser pyramid might collapse.

“All these repetitions that there are fallen stones inside or outside the pyramid are not true,” el-Damaty said.

He welcomed small groups of journalists inside the towering stone pyramid to view the inner chamber’s steel and wood support scaffolding.

“You were with us inside the pyramid, you saw it from the inside,” el-Damaty said. “It is not destroyed, it is safe.”

Criticism of the project centers on the government’s choice of a contractor, the Shurbagy construction company, which has no antiquities experience. Critics point to a new brick wall built on top of the pyramid’s base, which they say risks damaging the ancient structure.

“This company is full of corruption, they didn’t hire professional people,” said Monica Hanna, an Egyptian archaeologist. She advocates the formation of an independent committee of Egyptian conservationists to oversee the restoration of all the country’s historical sites, including Saqqara.

“Looking at archival images of Saqqara over the past 100 years, the pyramid actually looks new,” Hanna said. “This should never be the case: we have to conserve these monuments in a way that is unnoticeable.”

During the conference, el-Damaty angrily blamed journalists for not contacting the ministry about the “rumors” of the pyramid’s structural integrity.

He singled out the website “Archaeologists Against the Coup,” run by Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as being “behind the spread of rumors which the media helped exaggerate.”

Morsi was overthrown by the military in July 2013 amid mass demonstrations calling for his resignation after a tumultuous year in power. His supporters view the current government as illegitimate.

The government has recently announced a range of programs to revitalize the tourism sector, which fell by nearly 46 percent following the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Funded by museum and site ticket sales, the ministry of antiquities is facing bankruptcy as international tourists remain wary of visiting Egypt after three years of turmoil.

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