Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fallout from the theft of the Poppy Flowers

Egypt Daily News (Hadeel Al-Shalchi)

With the alarms out and few cameras working, the thieves took advantage of the afternoon period when security guards were busy praying during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The thieves used a box cutter to slice the 12-inch-by-12-inch (30-centimer-by-30-centimeter) canvas from its frame and left the museum undetected.

Now, officials in Egypt's culture ministry are under fire.

On Monday, the head of the ministry's fine arts department, Mohsen Shalaan, was arrested for negligence. Shalaan, who was in charge of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, and a number of other museum heads had asked Culture Minister Farouk Hosni for nearly $7 million to upgrade their security systems, but only $88,000 was approved.

Two days later, Hosni ordered three museums closed because security cameras weren't functioning.

The independent newspaper Al-Shorouk reported the Tourism and Antiquities Police had warned Hosni of lax security at the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, and that 16 of the country's nearly 50 museums have no alarms, cameras or appropriate fire safety systems.

Each year, nearly 9 million people visit Cairo's museums and the haunting tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, and these tourists are a vital source of revenue.

Still, on a hot Tuesday afternoon at the height of the tourist season, inattentive security was easy to spot at the Egyptian Museum.

Egypt Daily News (Rania Al Malky)

It’s been a turbulent week in Egypt for ministers, dissidents, presidents and their sons.

In fact the turbulence had started last week with the shocking theft of Van Gogh's “Poppy Flowers” from Cairo’s Mahmoud Khalil Museum. But the spill over from the hassle-free heist where the thief used a simple box-cutter to remove the masterpiece from its frame, then simply walked out, has not subsided.

A war of words, accusations and counter accusations ensued between Mohsen Shaalan, deputy minister and head of the Fine Arts section who is now being held in custody pending investigation into charges of negligence, and Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, have been making headlines all week.

While Hosni alleges that he had no idea that only seven of the museum’s 43 surveillance cameras were functioning and that none of the alarms worked, Shaalan cried “conspiracy” as he claimed Hosni has known since 2007 and that he was a scapegoat.

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