.It's over a year now since all that looting, both of museums, storerooms and sites in Egypt following the January coup. The list of objects missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo which took them ages to compile has not been updated to take into account items which have now been retrieved, or which were not missing in the first place. The promised lists of items taken from the several storerooms have not been published. How can anyone look for them if they do not know what is missing? Or indeed we do not even have a rough idea of how many items are missing.
This is telling (Saeed Nafea, 'Sixty-eight artifacts seized in Minya', Egypt Independent 5th March 2012): "In March, the ministry said an estimated 800 artifacts from the Pharaonic, Roman and Islamic eras had been damaged or stolen since last February. A statement issued by the ministry last April said the ministry did not have accurate statistics for the number of pieces stolen since the beginning of the 25 January revolution".
"Last month, Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Ali said that two percent of historical artifacts held in government storehouses were stolen during the period of lax security that followed the 25 January revolution". Is this an "off-the-top-of-my-head" guess by Minister Ibrahim Ali, or what an investigation of the situation a year after the events has actually revealed?
The problem is a serious one. There were (as I recall Zahi Hawass saying) some 65 such formal storehouses all over the country. If as a ball-park figure we assume that each contain[ed] some 200 000 individual artefacts (not an unreasonable figure to judge from the ones I have seen), that means something in the region of 13 million artefacts. Shockingly, two percent of that is 260000 missing artefacts.
There is quite a difference between "800" missing artefacts and quarter of a million missing artefacts. Eight hundred missing artefacts - even in the difficult conditions under which they have recently been working - would not take SCA staff more than a year to list, a quarter of a million missing artefacts would.
Have thieves really made off with quarter of a million ancient artefacts from the government's storerooms? It is clear that there is a complete lack of reliable information coming out of Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities about any of this. Can we expect any change in that situation?