From the dawn of civilization to the present, Egypt has played a major role in world affairs. As one of the first nation states and as one of the earliest world empires, the legacy of Egypt in law, politics, religion, philosophy, science, medicine and engineering, not to mention the arts and literature, were transmitted throughout the Hellenistic world and reverberating in the teachings of Christianity and Islam. In 1954, the world was alerted to the potential impact of the construction of the Aswan High Dam on the tangible record of this great legacy prompting an unprecedented UNESCO campaign, that later gave rise to the World Heritage Center.
The construction of the Aswan High Dam signalled a new era with grave threats to the archaeological legacy of Egypt, attending ambitious programs of economic development and land reclamation, as well as an explosion in population. Sites everywhere are now threatened by housing projects, sewage water, road construction, and polluted air.
The Egyptian Authority in charge of archaeological sites and monuments, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), is heavily burdened with the task of preserving a staggering number of "antiquities", and, in spite of valiant efforts to restore and maintain outstanding sites, there is a need for a new vision to save Egypt's threatened heritage.
One of the key elements of a new vision is to consider Egyptian sites and monuments as proxies of a national and world cultural heritage, a heritage not of stones but of social, religious, political, and aesthetic values. This heritage is only significant and worthy of protection because of what it means for us today. This new vision caters to the past as a means for enriching the lives of Egyptians and the lives of visitors who come from abroad to behold the magnificence of an ancient world civilization and to trace its continuity in our world today.
There is no hope for preserving Egyptian monuments and sites, without a public awareness program that encourages people to appreciate their own heritage so that they can be its guardians and beneficiaries. With the active participation of local and international communities in setting the agenda for an action plan, Egypt can begin to identify and document its heritage using modern technologies. A National Register with accurate records of the value and condition of monuments and sites is one of the first tasks in order to prioritize future actions.
The natural and cultural threats to sites, and the increasing number of tourists also require the implementation of proper site management strategies. Site management must be the corner stone of all activities pertaining to archaeological and historic sites with site authorities responsible for research, documentation, visitor management, interpretation, conservation, and monitoring. Adequate management will not only contribute to preserving sites, but will also contribute to enhancing the tourist experience and increasing revenues.
Sites can no longer be viewed in isolation from the local communities surrounding them, or the environment in which they are situated. This is important both for preservation and for a greater enjoyment of the site as an element in the natural landscape and in the lives of people. This is important also for tourist development and for creating jobs since sites can be visited within the scope of ecotourism. Egyptian heritage must be viewed as an integral element in all economic development efforts, considering the tremendous economic potential of a heritage industry. This new vision and the overwhelming number of endangered sites require a new program of Professional Training in Cultural Heritage Management (CHM), now a major specialization in archaeology programs abroad, to provide both the expertise and the personnel needed for conserving Egyptian heritage. Institutional arrangements must also be adjusted to accommodate the implementation of the new strategy. These include new laws to allocate funds from development projects to preserve threatened sites and monuments and to provide generous tax exemptions for donations toward the conservation of cultural heritage. They also include changes in the organizational structure to minimize conflict and streamline the management of projects and enhance capacity building.