Tuesday 15 February 2011

Cairo Museum: Looting and vandalism, or just Vandalism?

The latest news from Cairo is an interview on CNN in which Zahi Hawass stated that part of the statue of Tutankhamun being carried by the goddess Menkaret has also now been found. However, the figure of Tutankhamun from this object remains missing. Hawass' own blog carries the additional and worrying information that what has actually been found are "fragments" of the goddess. It turns out that the coffin fragment and scarab were in the museum ground on the west side, while the shabti was found in the museum stuffed under a showcase.

I am beginning to get a bad (even worse) feeling about this latest development. (At least) sixteen objects are still missing, presumed stolen. What if that is not the case? What if the objects now (only now) being found scattered on the ground outside the museum are just part of the same senseless breakage and scattering of objects from the smashed cases inside the museum? In other words, the people who grabbed stuff out of the cases and threw it on the floor sometimes on the other side of the Museum, were also carrying stuff outside and threw it down there. Perhaps nothing was actually taken very far, just damaged and scattered. While from the point of view of looters, that seems a pretty illogical thing to do and takes up time that could be spent looking for something more worth nicking (unless as I pointed out earlier it was done to hinder actually working out what was missing), a scenario it would fit was the earlier suggestion that this was (in part perhaps) done by rent-a-mob thugs intended to discredit the protesters in western eyes. They might have had pretty unspecific orders like "go in there, smash a few cases, make a mess and avoid being caught". That they would seem to have done. They may have taken several items on their own initiative, but its beginning to look like this was an exercise in making a mess à la Baghdad for the news cameras. If so, how do we know that all of the bits taken outside were chucked away in the museum grounds and the museum? What was thrown down and where, and what has been taken? The Museum staff is working frantically to answer this question.

It would be awful if it turned out that some had been dumped by escaping vandals among the mess in Tahrir Square and carted away with all the rubbish and fecalia when the square was cleaned last week before anyone knew to tell the street-cleaners to keep an eye open for misplaced musealia.

I am beginning to suspect that the key to all this and the first wave of looting is the dismissal of the cabinet not long before. It looks rather like certain people, perhaps individuals immediately under - and thus protégés of - the people actually dismissed, fearing they face lose influence, deciding to try any measure which might help reverse the situation. It would be nice to see a full investigation of who gave the orders for the police and security forces to withdraw at the same time as prisoners were "escaping" in large numbers to further destabilise the situation.

1 comment:

Vincent said...

Dr Hawass stated in a recent post on his website that when he interviewed the only "criminal" that was found inside the museum. This man told Hawass that he was instructed to break in to the museum:

“They told me to.” he said.

Told by whom is of course the big question that Zahi didn't ask, or at least didn't mention in his post.

It was reported in the Washington Post and other sources that thousands of prisoners were released and it was rumored the government allowed the prison breaks to further the notion of instability. Hawass mentioned these prisoners were trying to break into the museum:

"...the Egyptian people, young and old, stood as one person against the escaped prisoners..."

As you suggested, it seems that these prisoners were released and told to go to Tahrir square to discredit the protestors and sway public opinion of the uprising in order to end it.

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