Wednesday, 6 July 2011

BBC Documentary on Egyptian Museum "Looting"

The Pharaohs' Museum on Liberation Square Alan Yentob visits Egypt's National Museum, possibly the most precious museum in the world, which stood at the centre of the action during the revolution on Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Irritatingly, this is not accessible here, but from what I've heard of it from several sources, there is really nothing much new in this BBC documentary. Kate Phizackerley has a post on her blog ('Update on Museum Looting from BBC Documentary) which describes it. This is what she says:

To my mind, the documentary adds only minimal detail to the story of the break in. That the robbers made their entrance via ropes from the ceiling is again presented but the windows filmed by the BBC are covered with the grime of ages and clearly hadn't been broken. Reviewing an old video on this post, the presenter points to "that broken window", although he didn't film it. I am therefore inclined to believe that at least one intruder did enter via the skylight.
Well, this is odd. The windows above the case where the journalist, Richard Engel, is standing most certainly were not, and had not been recently, broken when I visited the museum a few weeks later (21st Feb 2011). In the film as the camera swings up (1:37 mins) you can even see these are grimy windows. There IS (was) a broken window in the clerestory but on the opposite corner of the room from the smashed case. The journalist is waving his hands towards unbroken windows, while looking towards one that is - but is not over the case which figures in the official story.

Kate Phizackerley's account of the BBC programme continues:
There is visible blood on one of the objects in case on which one intruder is supposed to have fallen which lends further credence to the official story. There is also a blood stain in the corner beyond one of the wooden model boats (I think the Meseti boat), where supposedly he hid close to where he entered on ropes from the skylight. It's not obvious how if he moved to hide in a corner following his injury that he and/or his accomplices then made their way to the Tutankhamun collection and downstairs where he was captured in front of the Sekhmet statue.
yes there are blood spatters on some of the objects in the case indicated, but the blood stain shown (1:49 mins) is between that case and the wall cabinets (you can see them going round the case to point to it) and not "beyond one of the wooden boats").

This smear was still on the floor, and another on the glass of the wall cases about half a metre up when I visited the Museum after it re-opened (21st feb), but had been cleaned off when I went back a month later (the bloodstains remained on the objects in the case). So no, this guy was not "hiding", he cut himself on the glass and bled a bit. The Tutankhamun gallery was vandalised before the events in this room, the broken statues were brought here. I think the "roof entry" is a cover-up. I think the evidence clearly shows the men came up the stairs in the southeast corner of the Museum.... and went straight to the Tutankhamun cases, they then spread out and moved west, eventually to escape down the northwest stairs to the exit door (and Sekhmet statue). Do we actually know it was the injured guy that was captured? (I know its what we have been told, but that is not the same thing). I do not think we have really been properly informed how many people were in the galleries (the official story is that the security cameras were operating - though I doubt that, I think they had been turned off) or where they were, how many have been arrested, and where they are now. Sadly, I think there is a very good reason for that which I suspect has more to do with what is known than what is unknown about these men.

Kate P. again:
Dr Hawass also stressed that the museum was dark which is how the boat came to be damaged in the hunt for gold, which suggests the lights were turned off very quickly, but the impression I had formed from previous versions of the break in story was that there had been something of a delay before the idea of turning the lights off occurred to the control room.
Well, like the "red mercury" nonsense, the "gold seekers" story is in my opinion just a smokescreen invented by the authorities (Hawass himself?) to draw attention away from what really was the primary aim of the people in the Museum on 28th January. As I have argued earlier, I think the fact that objects were actually taken was a secondary and unplanned part of the night's events. Were the lights actually turned off? Or is that a story to act as a cover-up why there are no security camera images?

Of course we should not need to be scanning videos of visits of foreign journalists to the museum six months after the event for clues. By now, the Museum should have gathered all the information about these events, sorted out truth from convenient fiction, and released to the Egyptian public and international community the results of their research about what happened, what went wrong and why, and what concrete steps have been taken to avoid a repetition. Basically all the Museum has done since is stay silent about the various inconsistent (but all 'official') stories circulating and presumably is hoping if they stay quiet for long enough, the problem will go away. Sadly for them, it will not. It is surely time for Egypt's Museum professionals to act like museum professionals.

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