Wednesday 27 April 2011

"The staff of the Egyptian Museum has seen very little support " (1)

On Facebook, the following text apparently by Dr Yasmin El Shazly, Head of Documentation at The Egyptian Museum Cairo has been posted with the enjoinder "please circulate widely". It is dated 16th April 2011, but I only became aware of it today. In it we read:
I must admit that I am very disappointed at how some members of the international community have reacted to the looting of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The staff of the Egyptian Museum has seen very little support (there are a few wonderful people who did offer a lot of support, which we very much appreciate), and a great deal of attacks, nitpicking, sarcasm, etc... without any effort to actually understand what's going on, or how much hard work the museum staff is putting and how very very difficult this has all been for all of us. All the negative postings and articles have put a lot of pressure on us. If this material contained any constructive criticism, and was actually sent to us, so that we could try to use it to improve things it would've been very much appreciated, but most of it is in the style of the notorious Paul Barford, who posts material with nothing but criticism, and is clearly far less interested in the actual wellbeing of the Egyptian Museum than in promoting himself. OK, so it's world heritage, but why doesn't the international community react that way when thefts happen in museums in other parts of the world??? Why are we being treated like we had borrowed these objects from them and that we need to constantly justify everything we do? Why are we being treated with so much mistrust? Like we are always lying or trying to hide something???? Don't people understand that the museum has close to 200 000 objects? Don't people understand that the army only allowed us into the museum on February 6th, 2011, and even then, we had no access to the database? Don't people understand that the army only allowed a very small number of people into the museum, before it was reopened to the public, and that we had to walk in groups of 10-15, escorted by army commandos? Not to mention that we had a revolution and spent some time without a minister or a head of the SCA! If the looting had happened in Paris, London or the US (without a revolution) would people have reacted the same way? I wonder!
Well, I am very sorry that Yasmin feels that "the staff of the Egyptian Museum has seen very little support" from outside. I am not quite sure what kind of help the international community could have offered in the circumstances. There were calls for international action to look out for the stolen artefacts if they had been smuggled out of the country, but we only learnt what was missing from the museum weeks later (much later than Feb 6th). It was impossible for outside specialists to come to the museum to help while the unrest was going on, and when there was an international mission in Egypt, it was strongly criticised by the Egyptians that it had come. Its not clear what the writer thinks is needed, money, advice, moral support only, being left alone? What kind of constructive advice could we offer Egyptian museum professionals? Has anyone seen any actual request for help from the Museum?

Certainly Yasmin, a lot of people - myself included - were (and are) deeply concerned for the safety of the Museum, the objects in it and the people who work in it in the current situation. We are, I would have thought, on the same side in this concern for what happened and why.

You mention me by name, critical of my commentary here on these events. I am going to answer those points below.

Let me assure you however I have deepest sympathy for those of my colleagues who have to work under such conditions and that I am very concerned indeed about what happened on 28th January, and about what has happened since. And it is precisely because of that concern that I do not think we should pass over such things in silence, and strive to get to the truth about what happened and why.
Vignette: Wsparcie.

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