Saturday 16 April 2011

A Different Story...

A notable feature of the return of the four objects to the Cairo Egyptian Museum was that some people initially refused to tell the story of how they were recovered. This is despite it being given out at the press conference. The official version them was that they were found in a big black bag in a Cairo metro station where they were picked up by Salah Abdel Salam, an MSAA employee. This is the story reported for example by Nevine El-Aref, 'Missing artifacts from the Egyptian Museum retrieved', Ahram Online, Tuesday 12 Apr 2011, and also recounted by Tarek El-Awadi at the press conference.

Notably, however, one of the people who did not repeat this story was Salah Abdel Salam's boss - Dr Zahi Hawass. Despite the sensational - one might say fantastic - manner in which these items were reported to have been found, on Zahi Hawass' blog, initially there was not a peep about how these objects were retrieved (Press Release - Four Objects Return to the Egyptian Museum, April 12th). Until now... Lo and behold ANOTHER story emerges (Objects Returned to the Museum, Zahi Hawass blog, 16th April 2011):
[...] It seems that the people who entered the Museum on the night of January 28th knew they could not do anything with these objects. They cannot sell them because no one will buy them, they have been publicized. They also cannot keep them because of the penalties. However, one of them had a conscience, because he took a bag and put it in a metro station, and by accident a person opened the bag and saw artifacts inside. At 9 am I found this person on the steps of my office with the bag. I opened it and was amazed to see these missing objects!
"A person", "this person". Unnamed, well, one might have thought the gratitude of the Egyptian people for this guy's honesty and civic spirit would have at least merited Dr Hawass naming him and saying a very public thank-you. In fact, he should get a medal. If I were the Minister, I'd have shown him at the press conference, wouldn't you? How was it ascertained that this now-unnamed person was not one of the thieves? Was he in fact questioned by the police about the precise circumstances of finding the objects? I'd also like to see the bag.

Another interesting snippet from the same source:
The people who were caught with antiquities from the Egyptian Museum were sentenced to 15 years in jail and fined heavily. I hope through these strict punishments we will deter people from dealing in antiquities here.
Which "people", how many "people"? The one man (with the injured leg?) who was apparently caught in the Museum just after the theft? The guys who were caught in the 'sting' when they tried to sell the objects in the Internet/ by mobile phone messages? The guys that naively walked into the Khan El-Khalili market to try and sell some to tourist-tat salesmen? All or none of these? Also what about the guys who broke into the Museum shop and were caught? Were these trials public or not? What emerged from their interrogation and cross examination? Did any leads emerge that will lead police to the other people involved (like the one who is obviously still at large and frequenting an underground station with a big bag of stolen antiquities)? These trials took place when, precisely?

There are a lot of people who were extremely distressed and extremely concerned about what happened in the Egyptian Museum on 28th January. People who are on the same side as the Egyptians, who want to see the archaeological heritage of Egypt safe and will do anything they can to help that aim be achieved. The Egyptian authorities do in fact owe these people a bit more information than we are getting - in dribs and drabs some of it conflicting with other information. When are we going to get it? Under this regime, or when there is a change of government?

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