As the protests in Egypt gained momentum over the weekend, reports came out that the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters were ablaze, a building which is next door to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where looters damaged several priceless artefacts and mummies, including contents of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb.
When a curfew was declared at 6pm in Cairo, all but three police officers abandoned their posts at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, the heart of the capital where protesters are focussing their anger against President Hosni Mubarak.
Like many famous Egyptian attractions such as the Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum had been closed all day because of the violent demonstrations, but as the Director of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities Dr Zahi Hawass explained, once the police had left their positions guarding the museum, people began to enter the museum. Bound indoors by the strict curfew, Dr Hawass spent the night at his home fretting about the fate of his nation’s treasures.
Of course I was worried, he said. I have been protecting antiquities all my life. I felt if the Cairo museum is robbed, Egypt will never be able to get up again. Dr Hawass shared his love for the artefacts in the Egyptian Museum in a video with Heritage Key (Watch the video).
It was only by sheer luck that the looters who climbed over the walls and forced their way via a skylight into one of the world’s greatest museums did not realise that they were, in fact, raiding the gift shop.
Though looters also ransacked the ticket office, ten of the intruders forced access into the museum itself. They were looking for gold, Dr Hawass told TIME magazine, but not finding what they were looking for in the museum’s vast expanses, they instead damaged priceless artefacts in 13 glass display cases, as well as astatues of King Tutankhamun on a Panther and King Tut hunting a Hippopotamus in the King Tut gallery. Also, as indentified on the Eloquent Peasant, one of King Tut’s golden fans was spotted damaged. King Tutankhamun’s tomb is famous for being the only intact tomb found in the Valley of the Kings (Watch the Video). Al-Jazeera, who have now been banned from reporting within Egypt, broadcasted video footage of some of the destruction in the Cairo Museum.
Though not officially identified, one of the damaged mummies briefly shown in the Al-Jazeera footage shot inside the museum appears to be of the Mummy of Queen Tuya.
Reports began to break on Twitter on Saturday evening that hundreds of protesters outside the museum had linked arms together to form a human barrier around the building until the military arrived at 10pm to take over security duties. One man pleaded outside the museum gates to people, shouting We are not like Baghdad, referencing the raiding of the National Museum in Baghdad as the 2003 invasion of Iraq began.
The alleged looters who broke into the museum were apprehended and caught with two mummy skulls and a statue of Isis. Crowds chanted Thief, Thief! as troops hit a man with the butt of their rifles and then sat him down with others apparently caught inside. Dr Hawass insisted nothing was missing from the museum though about 100 artefacts had been damaged, adding that They’re easy to restore.
The Former Director of the Egyptian Museum, Wafaa el-Saddik told German newspaper Die Zeit that some of the looters were the museum’s own guards, who she blamed their low wages to account for their actions.
Dr Hawass paid tribute to the citizens who took stand in Tahrir Square to protect the Cairo Museum and its many treasures, saying “They stood beside me. They know this museum is their cultural heritage…Thank God, we are protecting the sites”.
However, not all museums across Egypt were as lucky as the Cairo Museum. The Memphis Museum had been completely robbed on Saturday morning, as well as heavy looting reported across Saqqara. The storage of the Port Said Museum was raided by a large armed group, raiding boxes of their priceless artefacts. Additionally, the stores at Abusir were also looted.
Other groups attempted to enter the Coptic Museum, the National Museum of Alexandria and the El Manial Museum. An attempt to raid the Royal Jewellery Museum proved fruitless as foresighted museum staff moved all of the objects into the sealed basement before leaving. El-Saddik also noted that none of the museums in Egypt are insured.
Video:Al-Jazeera’s Report on Looting in the Cairo Museum, Egypt.
Security of key cultural points across Egypt has now been taken over by the military, who are safeguarding Egypt’s history. Summarising the situation, Dr Hawass told reporters “My heart is broken and my blood is boiling. I feel that everything I have done in the last nine years has been destroyed in one day.”