Protecting Giza from Looters

Giza

“We are paying the price for a greedy, insatiable and unregulated market.”

So argues Sarah Marei, an antiquities inspector in Egypt. She describes firsthand the attempts to protect sites in   Egypt:

Under normal circumstances the tourist police are responsible for guarding Egypt’s rich ancient history, from monasteries to temples, synagogues to mosques. But the police presence vanished in the revolution and has yet to return to the sites. The individual initiatives on the part of site inspectors and the townspeople from the remote areas is often the only current protection afforded to some of the world’s most unique and magnificent monuments. 

We continue to work everyday on the makeshift salvage operation in Giza. Volunteers regularly turn up and, as we work, stories are exchanged about the looting where gangs of armed men attacked and shot the guards and plundered the site. 

The work we are conducting is not only physically draining but also emotionally exhausting. My anger is initially directed at the looters and my thoughts keep returning to the same question: why are these criminals, who are Egyptians, looting their own history and their nation’s pride in order to sell it? Only if they stand to gain substantially would they go as far, feeding a market that is standing ready and prepared to amply reward them for their troubles; the better the object, the bigger the reward. 

No indication of the market for antiquities is clearer than in the selection of the sites targeted by the looters in the past few months in Egypt. The overwhelming majority is Pharaonic, followed by Islamic, with Coptic and Jewish so far remaining untouched. We are struggling to protect our sites, facing armed men while we have nothing but sticks, because of a demand from personal collections (both inside and outside Egypt) and from rival institutions seeking a competitive edge.

There’s justifiable anger and frustration in the account, and familiar groups to blame: the looters and an unregulated market.

  1. Sarah Marei, Tales from the Egyptian revolution | The Art Newspaper, The Art Newspaper, March 24, 2011, http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Tales+from+the+Egyptian+revolution/23394 (last visited Mar 24, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

1 thought on “Protecting Giza from Looters”

  1. It’s always easiest to blame outsiders, but doesn’t the Egyptian government have any responsibility in this matter? Where are the police? Where is the army? UNESCO requires member states to take care of their own cultural property. It would seem that the Egyptian government has failed miserably in this regard, change in the faces running the show or not. I’m also puzzled by your claim there is an unregulated market, given your coverage of the US Government’s aggressive efforts to repatriate Egyptian artifacts.

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