Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Under the Pharaohs' spell

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

This year, 2011, was indeed different for Egypt. A few days after the revolution broke out on 25 January, eventually toppling president Hosni Mubarak and his autocratic regime, the corrupt police force faded into the background and many of Egypt's most important monuments and archaeological sites were left vulnerable to attacks by vandals, thugs and thieves. The first victim of the turmoil was the Egyptian Museum on the rim of the revolutionary hotspot, Tahrir Square. On Friday 28 January thieves broke into the museum through a skylight and removed 48 artefacts from their showcases. By good fortune, 29 of the missing items were recovered soon afterwards, many of them handed in by members of the public.

Many storage places all over Egypt suffered break-ins, among them the Qantara East storehouse in Sinai, which houses artefacts belonging to the planned Port Said Museum and the Suez, Sharm El-Sheikh and Taba museums as well as objects returned from Israel under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Looters broke into the storehouse and stole several boxes of objects containing up to 800 items, although to date 292 of these have been returned. Meanwhile, people have encroached on monument buffer zones, building houses or carrying out illegal night-time excavations. Reports of illegal construction have come in from near the Pyramid of Merenre and at the Mastaba Faraun near Saqqara. Many sites, including some in Alexandria, Ismailia, Saqqara, Beheira, Sharqiya, Abusir and Dahshour, have reported illegal excavating, very often at night.

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