Security measures tightened in Egyptian cultural sites

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As Egypt tries to find a way out of the current chaos, its past seems to be in peril as well, as the ongoing political turmoil and consequent violence put the country’s priceless fortune of history under threat.

Statue of Pepi-Ankh and his wive, from Meir, 6th dynasty, Museum of Mallawi, Egypt (Picture: Roland Unger)

Over 1,000 artifacts were stolen from the Malawi Museum in the central Minya governorate on August 14th . A security vacuum was created after Islamist President Mohamed Mursi was ousted by the military in early July. The situation deteriorated when clashes erupted between troops and Morsi’s loyalists on August 14th after the dispersal of two pro-Mursi sit-ins in the country. The looters, taking advantage of the mayhem, burnt the museum and destroyed a number of mummies and statues that were too huge to be carried away.

“I wonder why didn’t the government take some necessary measures to protect museums during the expected turmoil,” said Mohamed el-Kahlawy, professor of archaeology and Islamic culture at Cairo University. El-Kahlawy accused the government of gross negligence that left many museums and archaeological sites still vulnerable.

“No one denies the humble security measures in the museum, but what had happened there was unprecedented and unexpected,” said Shadia Mahmoud, head of the international cooperation department at the Ministry of Antiquities.

“We have nearly 40 local museums around the country, some of them are fully protected with modern systems, but others still depend on old protection systems that need to be improved,” she said.

On August 18th, the military and police did send additional security forces to archaeological sites and galleries in Al-Minya to help guards of the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) protect the city’s heritage.

The additional security personnel travelled to Minya at the request of Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim, who reportedly had received a letter from an unknown person threatening to set fire to Al-Bahnasa archaeological galleries and to loot its treasured artefacts.

The galleries house a large collection of ancient Egyptian objects that were discovered in Al-Bahnasa archaeological sites on the western bank of the Minya Nile and Amarna. It is considered one of Minya’s largest archeological sites where more than 100,000 papyri fragments were found, now at the Sackler Library in Oxford, UK.

Ibrahim said that security measures were being tightened in all archaeological sites, museums and galleries all over the country, in order to protect them from encroachment or attempts at looting during the current period of political turmoil.

MENA news agency reported on August 28th that Tourism security had managed to restore 131 artifacts that have been looted from the National Museum in Minya.

Initial reports say looters got away with more than 1,000 objects, including a prized 3,500-year-old limestone statue, ancient beaded jewelry, gold and bronze Greco-Roman coins, pottery and bronze-detailed sculptures of animals sacred to Thoth, one of the ancient Egyptian deities represented with the head of an ibis.

Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim has ordered security forces to step up their efforts to restore looted artifacts.

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