“There is but a straight path”
The autobiography of Wafaa El Saddik
|Wafaa El Saddik © privat|
It was the 28th of January, 2011, the „Day of Rage“, when Wafaa El Saddik, the former director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, decided to write this book. She had retired only few weeks ago and had been asked by Suzanne Mubarak herself to be at the head of the new children’s museum in Heliopolis. El Saddik had been stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand she had been committed in providing museum education for Egypt children for more than twenty years; on the other hand she had been reluctant to work again for the regime. On this day she suddenly knew that she could not head a museum “founded by people who torture and beat young people to death”, how she writes. Instead, she decided “to open the drawers” and to write about her experiences reflecting what had changed in her country since her childhood and “since when they had been on the wrong track”.
Reading her autobiography can be a true inspiration for people working and studying in the museum field. Very seldom you can find personal reports of museum scholars and thus following El Saddik’s career, step by step, is informative and exciting. Besides this it is her perspective as an Egyptian archaeologist which turns the read into a rewarding endeavour. She describes how she had to fight for being taken seriously working on sites in her own country by colleagues coming from abroad. Or how she was confronted, travelling, with Egypt masterpieces in museums in the USA or England, being aware of the sometimes difficult acquisition histories. But what make this book relevant are the descriptions how she tried to stay on the “straight path” in a controversial political system, when to compromise, when to disagree.
These questions became burning issues when she returned to Egypt after having lived for many years in Germany, and even more in 2004 when she was asked to head the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. She decided to accept the dare and entered a field which she depicts as characterised by corruption and mismanagement. In spite of these adverse conditions she succeeded in introducing innovations like the “Children’s Museum of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo” in 2010. Today she is concerned mainly about the destruction and pillage of the cultural heritage in her country and tries to spread the message how important it is to keep in sight the origins of one’s culture.
The book is published yet only in German.
Wafaa el Saddik (with Rüdiger Heimlich), Es gibt nur den geraden Weg, Mein Leben als Schatzhüterin Ägyptens, Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2013.