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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Egyptian Museums Reopen after Limited Theft and Damage

After the uprising in Egypt that precipitated the unexpected downfall of the Hosni Mubarak regime, much of the country was left in chaos. Though the protests were generally peaceful, and the world over is celebrating the victory of the Egyptian people's mass protests, many archeologists, anthropologists, and cultural and art enthusiasts feared the worst for what is one of the most established museum sites of ancient history in the world.

After conflict in Iraq in 2003, looters devastated the country's museums and artifact collections, and it would not have been surprising if the same had happened in Egypt. Astonishingly, however, museums suffered little damage, and while some artifacts were stolen, Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass said in an interview with the German newspaper Spiegel International that many items were returned.

Hawass noted:


(Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass during the Feb. 16 press conference. He says that many of the items that were stolen on the night of Jan. 29 have now been recovered.) AFP

"Imagine a city with millions of residents where complete lawlessness reigned for several hours. Where the prisons were opened and there were actually no more police. That is what happened in Cairo on the evening of Jan. 29. A lot more could have been robbed and destroyed in this horror scenario What happened in Cairo could also have happened in New York, in London, in any museum in the world. As I said, considering the circumstances it is a miracle that more was not stolen."

According to an AOL news article, much damage and looting was mitigated because protesters and military both conscientiously joined together to protect Egypt's many museums and historical sites, in one instance forming a human shield around the Egypt Museum. The director of another historical hotspot, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, sent a special thanks to the country's demonstrating youth, who played a big role in the protection of the library's historical collection.

Hawass reports that only about 18 items were missing from the Egypt Museum, and some objects were found scattered in different places in the city. Tombs at Saqqara and Abusir, as well as storage areas at Cairo University, had also been broken into, although the total accounting of lost or damaged items has not yet been reported. An earlier Washington Post article noted that antiquities experts were working hard to restore the damage done to some 70 items in the Victorian-era Egypt Museum.

According to Hawass, the most important item damaged was a statue of King Tutankhamen standing on a panther. Removed from the panther, the figure of the boy king was also missing its arm.

It will certainly take some time for tourism, among Egypt's most lucrative industries, to pick up to the levels it had experienced before the uprising. However, as of Sunday, February 19th, the Egypt Museum along with many others throughout the country, have officially reopened, with understandably poor attendance.


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