1 May 2011
The damage and theft of Egyptian antiquities has been among the most serious losses Egypt suffered in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution. Relevant violations reported from antiquity sites in Cairo, Giza, Saqqara, Mit Rahina, Dahshour, Qalyubiya, Helwan, Beni Sueif, and Fayoum give reason for real concern.
A recent meeting convened by the Minister of State for Antiquities, Zahi Hawass with ministry officials and a representative from the Armed Forces reviewed the violations reported.
Stolen and destroyed
“Unknown people used weapons to attack several antiquity storehouses. A large number of antiquities was totally destroyed, and others were stolen,” Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, general manager of Lower Egypt monuments, said.
So far the Armed Forces, with the help of local Bedouin, have succeeded in recovering 293 antiquities stolen from a storehouse at Qantara Sharq east of the Suez Canal. Yet the number of destroyed and missing artefacts exceeds 800 pieces. The stolen pieces included pottery, bronze coins, amulets, arrowheads, spears, weights, textile tools, a headless statue with heiroglyphic inscriptions and some ivory pieces.
Armed robbers attacked the antiquities storehouse of Pharaeen in Kafr al-Sheikh in the North Delta, taking and damaging 27 pieces, and stealing the arms of the guards.
The antiquity storehouse at Tal al-Dabaa in the East Delta was also attacked and 81 pieces are missing; also the storehouses of the Austrian, German and Dutch missions working at the site were plundered. Although the storehouse at Tel Basta in the East Delta escaped unscathed, thieves robbed the tomb of the Nineteenth-Dynasty scribe Qani Amun and partially destroyed it, and completely destroyed the sarcophagus of the tomb owner, a one of its kind from that era.
Islamic area thefts
“Thieves attempted to steal parts of the minbar (pulpit) of the Sheikh al-Mu’ayyid mosque in al-Muizz Street in Islamic Cairo, but guards there were able to apprehend them and handed them over to the Armed Forces who retrieved what they had stolen,” Maqsoud said. Some Gamaliya residents seized the maqaad (literally, seat) of Mamai al-Saifi and turned it into a mosque, even though the maqaad was constructed in the first place with no religious purpose.
The door of the Amin Effendi Heiza sabil (water fountain) in Gamaliya was broken and all its contents stolen, including the lamps, copies of the Qur’an, and candelabra. A new iron gate and three ornamental brass windows from the sabil of Ali Bek al-Kabir were also stolen but were later found, cut into small pieces, in the hands of dealers.
A group of vandals seized a piece of land at al-Azhar and al-Ghouri in Islamic Cairo and parked cars on it, but the Armed Forces evicted them. Other thugs attacked the Kleber tower in Gamaliya and used it for drug dealing, but the authority responsible soon caught them.
An interloper seized a piece of land on the site adjacent to the Syrian Monastery in Wadi Natroun in the Western Desert and planted it. He also attacked the guards and inspectors there, who filed a formal complaint at the local police station. Some Bedouin seized land close to the Abu- Maqar Monastery, also in Wadi Natroun, but the guards and the inspectors were able to reclaim it.
People from the area near Saqqara where the Step Pyramid and the pyramids of Pepi I and Pepi II are located, seized five feddans of land known to overlie ancient tombs and temples, and built 500 graves for their families there. Furthermore, some brokers seized parcels of land and then divided and sold them.
Unite to protect
Maqsoud stressed that people must cooperate with the Armed Forces to prevent any violations.
The participants said the antiquities authorities should increase the salaries of the antiquities guards and arm them properly, especially in remote or isolated areas. They should also raise their awareness of the significance of the material they protect. The role played by the media and NGOs in raising public awareness of the value of antiquities cannot be underscored, they said. UNESCO can also help invaluably. “We must unite to protect our antiquities since they represent our history and civilisation,” Maqsoud said.