Looting in Egypt at a level not seen since Baghdad in 2003

The AP reported last week that the Malawi Antiquities Museum in a city called Minya had been ransacked. There really is no other word for it. Stolen objects included a 3,500 year-old statue, jewelry, and an estimated 1,000 other artifacts.

Most disturbing of all: the thieves and looters ransacked the building “for days”. From the AP report:

Among the stolen antiquities was a statue of the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled during the 18th dynasty. Archaeologist Monica Hanna described it as a “masterpiece.” Other looted items included gold and bronze Greco-Roman coins, pottery and bronze-detailed sculptures of animals sacred to Thoth, a deity often represented with the head of an ibis or a baboon.

And another disturbing detail:

The museum’s ticket agent was killed during the storming of the building, the Antiquities Ministry reported.

Jonathan Jones argued in the Guardian that:

It is time for the Art Fund, the British Museum and any other body that takes responsibility for cultural heritage to speak up for the antiquities of Egypt. This is too important to wait until the worst happens. We can start by recognising that the pyramids and sarcophagi and statues of ancient Egypt are not just for tourists but part of a global inheritance, to be kept safe for all future generations.


Larry Rothfield also tempered some of the justifiable pessimism about this staggering theft:

Non-Egyptians could help by finding ways to donate to Egyptians like Monica Hanna, Save El Hibbeh and other facebook groups, etc. who are mobiizing Egyptian citizens to take direct action where possible;
We could raise money to pay for remote site monitoring to at least make sure the world is aware of what is going on;
We could push much harder for a worlwide emergency ban like the one UN Resolution 1483 imposed on Iraqi materials;
We could help foster longterm growth of both SPI-like and citizen-led emergency site protection groups in countries where breakdown, revolution, or invasion seems possible (UNESCO is doing something like this but working with governments not with NGOs incountry);
We could explore ways to tap into the military-to-military friendships that one supposes must exist given the decades of joint exercises, to see if there might be some way to appeal individually to officers there who are in the right position to move some forces onto sites.

There may be other measures. Perhaps the Carabinieri can assist the Egyptians in the same way they did in Iraq. But the damage here has been done, and hopefully these objects will soon be restored. But given the political unrest in Egypt, more damage and destruction may be possible. Hopefully all sides in Egypt can see that the theft and destruction like this hurts everyone.

  1. Museum falls prey to Egypt turmoil, The Daily Star Newspaper – Lebanon, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Travel-and-Tourism/2013/Aug-21/228028-museum-falls-prey-to-egypt-turmoil.ashx.

2 thoughts on “Looting in Egypt at a level not seen since Baghdad in 2003”

  1. Following the information given by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, UNESCO published immediately the data of the stolen objects on its website: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/illicit-traffic-of-cultural-property/emergency-actions/egypt/warning-looting-of-the-malawi-national-museum/.
    At national level, the UNESCO field office in Cairo continues to provide support to the museum staff and the Ministry of State for Antiquities to refine the list of looted objects and translate it into English. As of today, through the efforts of the Egyptian authorities, the police has already succeeded in recuperating 121 objects but 911 objects are still missing.
    UNESCO is taking the initiative to circulate the most updated information concerning this looting and to inform its partners in order to ensure maximum vigilance on anticipated attempts to illegally export and sell the objects on the market.
    UNESCO works closely with IGOs sucha as INTERPOL, the World Customs Organisation, ICCROM, UNIDROIT as well as with selected NGOs such as, for example, ICOMOS, ICOM, the International Committee of the Blue shield and private partners of the art market.

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