In a video that went viral online, four people were shown breaking off and selling pieces of one of the Giza pyramid blocks, leaving archaeologists and antiquities lovers up in arms.
Privately owned Egyptian news site Dot Masr decided to investigate media reports that “pieces of the pyramid were being sold”, resulting in the video of the sale, the website said.
The editors of the website were able to “buy a piece of the pyramids for EGP 300” following an agreement with one of the men, who is now in police custody, to buy chunks of the pyramid in order to send to a friend abroad.
The video sparked outrage on social media, with many users calling on the antiquities and tourism ministries to “save the pyramids.”
Hussein Bassir, director of Giza Plateau, told Ahram Online that the incident happened in a remote area south of the Menkawre Pyramid, which is off the tourist track. Tourists normally visit areas around the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Khafre Pyramid and the Sphinx.
Security personnel, Bassir continued, are always available around the plateau, but could not be expected to be everywhere, as the plateau is vast and difficult to control.
"The blocks shown in the video are authentic, but have fallen from the pyramid complex across the span of time and have not been broken off by thieves," he said.
"The criminals seen in the video were arrested and detained for four days on charges of vandalism, trading in antiquities, and fraud.
"The journalists shown in the video may also face charges of owning and trading in stolen antiquities," Bassir added, saying that their good intentions in reporting the incident is not sufficient to annul charges against them.
"The pieces of the pyramids are still in their possession. If they had handed over the blocks to the police immediately after receiving them, their situation may have been different."
He went on saying that the immediate response of the tourism and antiquities police was a "major element in catching the criminals rapidly".
Salah Al-Hadi, coordinator of the Archaeologists' Syndicate, argues that security has to be tightened in all archaeological sites, especially in open air sites such as the Giza Plateau and Saqqara Necropolis.
He said that the mission of an archaeologist is on site, and not inside the ministry's offices.
"The ministry should put into effect judicial decisions, to stop encroachment on monuments. Penalties under the antiquities law have to be stiffened," Al-Hadi asserted.
Archaeologist Mohamed Fawzi believes that poor security measures are behind what happened, as well as the encroachment on several archaeological sites.
"The low salaries of ministry employees led some of them to become careless in their work," he said.