Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Yasmine el-Shazli on the Jan 28th Cairo Museum Looting

The interviews with Yasmine el-Shazly (see the post above) contain two snippets about the events of 28th January 2011 which I think are significant. In one interview at the end of April, she was asked a question and there is a moment of quick thinking on the topic of the Museum's security cameras inside the galleries were "not working". She is apparently concerned not to say too much about this... I think there is a reason for this and could write a lot on that, but leave that for another time.

It is worth noting that the whole question of the "lighting" came up recently (so more than two years after the alleged problem was noticed) when new Minister of State for Antiquities Ahmed Eissa at a meeting at the Culture and Antiquities Committee (CAC) at parliament headquarters:
"urged members to allocate a larger budget to the MSA in order to restore the decaying royal and noble mummies, to protect Egypt’s heritage and monuments and to develop the Egyptian museum in Tahrir Square. Specifically, poor outdoor lighting systems and lamps make the security control cameras ineffectual, making the treasures of the Egyptian museum vulnerable to looters. In fact, the wall surrounding the property should be added onto because thieves have tried to scale the wall into the museum, who were, thankfully, caught by police".
Another moment is when Dr El-Shazly has misunderstood what the dozy presenter was getting at (stuff 'lost' in the basement) and started talking instead about "reading and listening to all the horrible things people say about the museum". This is in "Breakfast 16 11 2012" and she talks about the looting, in which she explains why it took so long to get a proper list of missing objects together, and mentions that they had to search for them all over the place - including "objects found on the roof".

This is really interesting. Readers of this blog will know that I do not think the "raiders" came through the roof, but the evidence points instead to them coming up the stairs from inside the museum itself. If objects really were found on the roof, this would be important evidence - but not in the obvious way.

I wonder what however Yasmine el-Shazly actually knows about these objects, how reliable a witness she is. Was she on the roof herself and saw them lying there? Or is she repeating what she heard, half-heard maybe from somebody else?  After all the official version is that the robbers came through a skylight from the roof, and landed in a case in Room 42. Finding "objects on the roof" would just be an added detail to the official story. But its not as simple as that is it? The thieves were outside the museum  and got in when they allegedly looted the objects. At first sight, the only way objects from the museum could get out again is by the looters going back through the same hole, but then, we are told that they came in on ripped-out telephone cables, and those cables came down right into a case with broken jagged glass. I would say that only counts as a "way out" to somebody with no imagination of the difficulties of climbing up out of a jagged broken-glass-surrounded-case, up a thin slippery telephone cable (or bundle of them)  out through a hole smashed in more glass carrying a bundle of artefacts. Frankly, I just do not see it happening (that's quite apart from the fact that the window above that case was quite unambiguously not broken at the time the thieves allegedly came down through it because it was intact and the glass pane very very dirty when I saw it).

So maybe there were no museum objects on the roof?  Maybe, but there is another possibility.

We know (actually we are told - slight difference there) that the army when they came to station themselves in the museum caught some of the "looters" on their way out. It is not wholly clear which ones where, but that aside, it suggests that at the time the army trucks turned up (allegedly around ten in the evening) and the colonel, or whoever was in charge was banging on the door, there were 'looters' (thieves) still in the museum building.  If there really were object found dropped or discarded on the roof, it must mean that some of the intruders escaped, or tried to escape, across the roof (maybe to the infamous fire escape on the NW corner). But not up the alleged telephone cable abseil. They would have gone up the stairs. There must be access to the roof from inside the Museum. There may be a door with a notice "to the roof" on it in arabic somewhere in the Museum, or it may be unmarked. That is immaterial, it was dark in the museum and the intruders were running from big men with guns who were going to burst in at any moment. No time to search for the door. That they found it can only mean one thing. They knew where it was, they already knew how to get onto the roof from inside the Museum. That could apply to only three groups of people, museum employees (such as security staff or cleaners as well as curators), or outside contractors who'd done work on the roof. The third group would be people who were in the museum charged with keeping an eye on the demonstrators - for whom going onto the roof with binoculars and who-knows-what-else (and turning the museum's security cameras on the crowd outside the walls rather than the vicinity of the building) would be an obvious move. Anybody who has been following this blog will know who I think was in the museum that night and what they were doing there. I think those "thieves" did not come down from the roof on that night, but if the story of museum objects being found on the roof is a reflection of the true situation, it would seem they knew how to get out onto it. 

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