The initial spasm of images from the Cairo Museum shocked observers. As tens of thousands of demonstrators confronted the security forces in what quickly evolved into the first popular revolution in Egypt's history, the museum was ransacked in a scene reminiscent of the looted tombs of ancient Egyptian kings. A statue of Tutankhamun astride a panther was ripped from its base but then cast to the floor when thieves discovered it was gilded and not solid gold. A boat model from a tomb was smashed, the figures huddled in the boathouse pulverized but the navigator at the bow still pointing sadly forward. Two mummies were beheaded, mouths agape; it was rumored that they were Tut's grandparents.
At the Cairo Museum, a statue of Tutankhamun astride a panther was ripped from its base but then cast to the floor when thieves discovered it was gilded and not solid gold.
The extent of the chaos was unknown but ominous. Egypt's antiquities were suddenly caught up in a revolution. But those antiquities have always been both a tool to create Egypt and Egyptians in the present as well as a telling map of Egyptian society.
A second narrative quickly appeared. In this one, the police, military, and most importantly "everyday Egyptians," joined together to protect museums and sites. Farid Saad, a 40-year-old engineer, was quoted as saying, "I'm standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure." The nation was united in protection of its past.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Egypt's Antiquities Caught in the Revolution
The Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2011, pp. 73-78 (Alexander H. Joffe)