Tuesday 1 February 2011

"Egypt declares treasures safe"

Well, we can all sleep soundly tonight, the new Minister for Antiquities has declared there is nothing to worry about after all. (Christopher Torchia, "Associated Press Interview: Egypt declares treasures safe" Washington Post February 1, 2011)
"Hawass declared, so ebullient that he was almost shouting. "I am so happy to announce that today everything is safe".
To be honest, I feel rather confused about the various claims and counter-claims, and not a bit sceptical about some of the earlier ones at least. Are not some of the stories that were circulating a few days ago (including some details of the Cairo Museum raid) deliberate misinformation intended to turn western supporters against the anti-government protests? Is it not odd that all over Egypt at the same time scattered populations - unable to communicate with each other suddenly and simultaneously had the idea to spend the evening out with crowbars, pickaxes and spades? And it just so (conveniently) happened that the guards and policemen who'd been put there and sat there decades to stop this happen apparently mysteriously melted away precisely on that night (as my colleagues report happened on the West Bank at Luxor but comments by Hawass on his blog suggest this might have happened in other regions of the country too) but were back the next day? I am really not sure what happened at Cairo Museum on Friday and who was behind it.

But are "all the treasures safe"? I sincerely doubt it, and in the political vacuum that will inevitably follow the weakening or demise of the current administration, I think that threat will be even greater. This is no time for complacency, but as Larry Rothfield and Rick St Hilaire suggest, a time which should see the existence of contingency plans to deal with such crises.

It is unthinkable to me that on Friday, the Cairo Museum was only guarded by three guys, and Hawass says the only reason they were there was that they'd not had time to get home before the curfew started. If they had, the museum would have been empty that night? When Hawass arrived the next morning, the keys to the museum "had been stolen" (from whom and by whom?). I'd like to know why the newly-appointed Director of the Museum is still in his post after those unbelievable security lapses with a crowd of angry anti-establishment demonstrators just outside the museum garden fence.

Meanwhile ARTINFO asks: "As the Revolution Grows, How Safe Are Egypt's Cultural Treasures?".

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