Egypt’s Mallawi Museum ransacked
The theft of more than 1,000 objects highlights a security vacuum outside of protest-hit Cairo
By Julia Halperin. Web only
Published online: 21 August 2013
More than 1,000 objects were stolen or looted last week at the Mallawi Museum in Minia, Egypt. The attack is among the most severe and violent thefts to hit an Egyptian museum in recent history, according to local reports, and highlights a security vacuum outside of the capitol city of Cairo, where protests against the removal of president Mohammed Morsi have been raging since 14 August.
The head of museums for the Antiquities Ministry, Ahmen Sharaf, told local reporters that he believes members of the Muslim Brotherhood—who have been leading the protests—are behind the attack, which took place 190 miles north of Cairo along the Nile River.
Looters shot several museum guards and killed the museum’s ticket agent as they charged the institution on Friday 16 August. Less than 5% of the collection—around 50 objects out of 1,089—survived unscathed by Monday, according to the Egypt Heritage Task Force. “This constitutes irreversible damage to the history and identity of the Egyptian people,” Irina Bokova, the director-general of Unesco said in a statement on Monday.
A 3,500-year-old limestone statue, ancient beaded jewellery, a statue of the daughter of the 18th-century ruler Pharaoh Akhenaten and Greco-Roman coins are among the stolen and damaged objects. In an effort to draw attention to the missing works, the Mallawi Museum is posting images of hundreds of objects on its Facebook page. “Please alert auction houses, antiquities shops and customs offices of the following objects that could have been looted,” it wrote.
The Antiquities Ministry is offering modest rewards in exchange for the return of looted artefacts. Archaeologists have also salvaged a handful of objects from the wreckage, including two mummies and stone carvings of the god Osiris, according to Salima Ikram, the head of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. As for the missing objects, “some will wind up on the market, others might be destroyed out of fear of reprisal, still more will or have been destroyed by Brotherhood supporters,” she says.
Meanwhile, the Antiquities Ministry is taking precautions to protect other cultural sites. At least 30 tanks line the street outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, according to the Associated Press, and the military has dispatched additional forces to Minya.
A more in-depth report on the situation in Egypt appears in our September print edition
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