Sunday, 3 July 2011

As Hawass flies to Peru, protesters call for the minister to step down

There seems to be a pattern developing, when the Minister of Antiquities of Egypt is sitting in his office with his finger on the pulse, his critics are quiet; the moment he goes jet-setting off around the world spreading the message, the critics crawl out and start their whining. A few weeks back he was in the States and the accusations flew. He came back and they sat quiet. Now he's gone off to Peru to take part in a conference on repatriation and back home the fuss starts (Ola El-Saket, Mohamed Azouz, 'As Zahi Hawass flies to Peru, protesters call for the minister to step down', Al-Masry Al-Youm 3rd July 2011).
As Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities minister, traveled to Peru on Sunday to represent Egypt in the second Conference on Retrieving Stolen Artifacts, dozens of people protested outside the Ministry of Defense demanding his removal from office.
Interesting location for the protest. The accusations being tossed about with gay abandon while he was State-side did not strike me as too convincing which is why I did not bother to blog about them. I'd go along with the new ones though.
The calls for his resignation stem from a number of complaints against him, included claims of irregularities regarding antique artifacts stolen during the Egyptian uprising earlier this year. "Zahi never provided official documents on what remains missing from the Egyptian Museum,” says Nasser Ibrahim, an employee at the ministry’s restoration department. On 28 January (dubbed "The Day of Rage"), looters broke into the Egyptian Museum overlooking Tahrir Square, after which, dozens of artifacts were reported missing. Hawass gave a number of conflicting statements after the break-in, at times admitting to the looting of artifacts, while at others assuring a furious local and international community that Egypt’s largest museum was safe. Reports have also suggested that not all artifacts at the museum are listed, making it impossible to determine what exactly was stolen. "We demand that an international committee be formed to create a thorough inventory of artifacts at the museum," said Ibrahim. “The security cameras at the museum were not working during the robbery. This is the responsibility of the former secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities,” says Intessar Gahrib, the media coordinator of the protest, in reference to Hawass, who held that position before he was appointed minister of antiquities. “We have submitted documents proving our claims to the General Prosecutor’s office, and we are demanding that the ruling military council look at them. They prove his negligence and corruption,” adds Gharib.
Now, actually I think he did in the end provide documentation (of sorts) of what was missing - after a huge delay which is indeed caused by the pitiful state of the documentation of the contents of the museum (for which previous directors of the museum and current staff must share responsibility with the Minister). Certainly I agree that since coming up to six months later, we have absolutely NO reliable information from the Egyptian authorities about what actually happened that night, and the official story (stories) is/are obviously a smokescreen, an international commission should indeed be set up to get those answers. Readers of this blog may remember that it is one of my contentions that the CCTV cameras were not working of the night of the thefts and apparently were still inoperative when the museum was reopened in February this year. Over in the Mahmoud Khalil Museum the same situation led to the jailing of the officials concerned, and there only one nineteenth century flower- painting was stolen, here we had unique artefacts from the New Kingdom swiped and damaged.

I think there is something else for the procurator to look into. Where are the missing objects? It has been claimed that the looters were random opportunist "red mercury seekers" from the streets. I think, conversely, the evidence available until now clearly points to an entirely different conclusion, in my opinion, it was a planned operation, apparently an "inside job". Nobody came in through any roof, they came up the stairs. If that is so, it would therefore stand to reason that the culprits are by now known to the authorities, some of the people (said to be) involved have been arrested and convicted, which means they surely already know where the rest of the artefacts are. So who has them? Where are they being kept? and when are those keeping them planning to reveal them? Just before the elections, maybe? I would say that the way the investigation of the location of all the missing artefacts (the sting, the Khan el-Khalili bust and especially the bag at the metro Station fiasco) was handled is indeed something for the state prosecutor to look into in great detail, just to make sure there was no cover-up.

The next bit of the Al-Masry Al-Youm article is pathetic:
Hawass was unavailable for comment. However, he spoke earlier of the Supreme Council of Antiquities’ efforts over the past few years in retrieving stolen artifacts and helping other countries do the same, Peru being one example. According to Hawass, Egypt played a pivotal role in the negotiations with the University of Yale to finally return 13 golden masks to Peru after a long-standing dispute. He also spoke of an extensive “wish list” developed in Cairo last year, citing artifacts stolen from Egypt that are to be demanded from museums in Europe and the US.
The journalists add a trenchant comment:
The recently missing items, however, are not on that list.
The reason for that however is, I submit, in all probability not quite what the journalists think.

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