Islamic Museum in Cairo seriously damaged

Weekend of violence prompts Egypt to call early presidential elections

The Museum of Islamic Art in central Cairo was extensively damaged when a car bomb exploded outside the adjacent police headquarters on 24 January.

The powerful blast was one of four targeting police in the Egyptian capital on 24 January, on the eve of the third anniversary of the popular revolution which led to the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a group affiliated to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the bombs which triggered three days of nationwide violence leaving over 50 dead and 250 injured.

The attack on Cairo's Port Said Street destroyed and damaged numerous priceless artefacts at the two-storey Islamic museum, which houses one of the world's most important collections of its kind and had recently undergone a $14 million renovation.

The blast destroyed the building's intricate façade as well as shattering many glass and ceramic objects inside. However many of the ancient treasures were saved or partly-saved by the framework of their display cabinets.

The 103-year-old museum is home to almost 100,000 artefacts of which 4,000 were on display at the time of the explosion, while the rest were in storage. The objects relate to all Islamic periods from all over the world and include treasures made of wood, plaster, metal, ceramic, glass, crystal, and textiles.

Museum curators are currently assessing the extent of the damage and are reported as estimating that 20 to 30 per cent of the artefacts will need restoration.

Minister of state for antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim described the incident as a “great loss” for Egypt and the world.

The recent violence has prompted interim president Adly Mansour to confirm that  presidential elections will take place before parliamentary ones, possibly before the end of April.

The announcement on 26 January marks a change in the country's transition plan which had originally called for parliamentary elections before presidential elections. The move could pave the way for the swift election of army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is expected to announce his candidacy shortly. His supporters see him as a strong figure who will be able to stabilise Egypt while his opponents – mainly supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood – accuse him of being behind the overthrow of former president Mohammed Morsi and the subsequent clampdown on Islamists.

The announcement of presidential elections follows Egypt's recent landslide approval for referendum for a new constitution.

Photo Washington Post.