Blue Shield

20 December 2011

As the altercations in Egypt endure, and following the recent damages suffered by the Institut d’Egypte in Cairo, the Blue Shield expresses its great concern regarding the safeguarding of the country’s invaluable cultural heritage amidst the ongoing turmoil, and wishes to recall the importance of the Arab Republic of Egypt as repository of the world’s collective memory. The recent events in Cairo have given reason for new alarm. The Blue Shield and the world heritage community bemoan the loss of lives that took place during the events and the damages the disaster has entailed.

The 12-hour fire, which broke out during clashes near the building on 17 December 2011, gravely endangered the manuscripts and other rare documents housed within. Out of a collection of about 200,000 manuscripts, journals and books, which date as far back as the 16th century, many documents – some of them considered very precious on a historical level – had been salvaged and can be restored.

The Institut d’Egypte was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 and housed, among many other valuable documents, the records of Napoleon’s 1798-1801 Egyptian Campaign. Amongst these, an original copy of the 20-volume Description de l’Egypte.

In keeping with its mandate to protect cultural heritage in times of conflict and political crisis, the Blue Shield wishes to support UNESCO’s efforts to raise public awareness on the importance of the protection of heritage in general, and that of the Institut d’Egypte in particular: Irina Bokova urges protection of Cairo’s cultural sites after fire at the Institute of Egypt.

The Blue Shield highly commends the courage demonstrated by the Egyptian population, as they braved the flames and collapsing building in order to save books and manuscripts. These acts are in following with previous actions taken during the events that threatened national museums and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, in which the citizens prevented further damage and looting from taking place. We applaud such efforts and encourage the army and fire brigades to support such protection enterprises. In times of conflict such as these, the safeguarding of heritage should be granted the highest priority. The Blue Shield is also grateful to the National Library and Archives for their prompt support and their invaluable first aid to burnt and wet manuscripts and books.

The Blue Shield mission is “to work to protect the world’s cultural heritage threatened by armed conflict, natural and human-made disasters”. For this reason, it places the expertise and network of its member organisations at the disposal of their Egyptian colleagues to support their work in protecting the country’s heritage, in assessing the damage that has occurred, and, whenever possible, for subsequent recovery measures.

The member organisations of the Blue Shield are currently liaising with Egyptian and international colleagues in order to obtain further information on both the situation and on the possible needs and types of help required for future restoration and conservation, so as to mobilise their networks accordingly.

The Blue Shield

The Blue Shield is the protective emblem of the 1954 Hague Convention which is the basic international treaty formulating rules to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts. The Blue Shield network consists of organisations dealing with museums, archives, audiovisual supports, libraries, monuments and sites.

The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS), founded in 1996, comprises representatives of the five Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working in this field:

National Blue Shield Committees have been founded in a number of countries (18 established and 18 under construction). The Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS), founded in December 2008, will coordinate and strengthen international efforts to protect cultural property at risk of destruction in armed conflicts or natural disasters. The ANCBS has its headquarters in The Hague.

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