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Reports of missing objects from Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art

Rumors spread about some objects missing from the museum which curators say may be hidden in storage

Nevine El-Aref , Friday 6 Sep 2013
Islamic Museum
A visitor attends the re-opening of the renovated Islamic Museum in Old Cairo in 2010 (File photo: Reuters)
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Within Egypt’s archaeological community, reports are circulating about objects missing from the collections of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo.

Some reports suggest that during an inventory at the museum, curators found that seven bronze artefacts were missing. The missing objects are said to be two statues, an incense burner, a key inlaid with silver decoration, a pot, a jewellery box and an astrolabe.

A curator who asked to be anonymous said that the objects may have gone missing during the museum renovation four years ago and may be hidden in storage.

On the other hand a website called “Egypt’s Heritage Task Force” published on its timeline a piece of news saying that approximately 35 objects that were previously in the museum have suddenly appeared in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

One Facebook user, Hani El-Masri, wrote on his Facebook page that when he was a student at the faculty of fine arts he used to go to the Cairo museum to draw some of its objects as he was fond of the Islamic arts. When he visited the museum after its renovation he found that only one third of the museum’s original collection was on display while the rest were in storage, the museum’s curator told him.

El-Masri wrote that a month ago when a friend went to Doha he asked her to take pictures from the Museum of Islamic Art to see the collection on display. Upon looking at the photos, El-Masri realized that 35 objects that he used to draw at the Cairo museum when he was in college are on show in Doha.  

Ahram Online spoke with the Minister of State of Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, who asserted that all “these rumours are unfounded.”

The seven objects in question, he said, were reported missing four years ago before he came to office, during an inventory made in 2010 before the official re-opening of the museum after its restoration. Ibrahim said that there is an ongoing legal investigation into the issue. He also added that, the Ministry of State of Antiquities (MSA) has assigned an archaeological committee to carry out a comprehensive inventory of the museum’s galleries to search for these objects and confirm if they are missing.

As for the 35 artefacts that the Egypt’s Task Force and El-Masri mentioned, Ibrahim told Ahram Online that he does not know anything about the objects, and he will look into the matter and publish an official press statement.

But he asserted to Ahram Online that “nothing is missing from the Museum of Islamic Art collection except those seven objects, which could be hidden in storehouses.”

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Shahira Mehrez
07-09-2013 10:59pm
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About thefts in The Museum Of Islamic Art in Cairo
My name is Shahira Mehrez and I am a member of an Advisory Board appointed to the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo following January 25th Revolution. As such, I would be very grateful if Mr. Hani El Masry could be more specific as to the items he believes have disappeared from Cairo to surface in Doha: is he missing a Toulounid wooden panel, a Fatimid lustre bowl or a Mamlouk enameled lamp ?… Needless to say, we would greatly appreciate if he could forward one of his drawings… The museum was closed in 2003 and reopened in 2010; in the process , much to our regret for the referential quality of the collection, the exhibition was reduced from some 70000 artifacts to 1 700. Whether this was the decision of the French designers of the exhibit, or of Mr. Zahy Hawass, then Head of the Supreme Council of Antiquites, remains to be clarified. The fact is that the collection was fragmented: some artifacts were given to other Egyptian Museums and the bulk went in storage… A year ago the well know writer and poet , Mr . Farouk Guweydah, wrote a similar article, complaining about another presupposed theft. However in his case the objects were described and immediately retraced in the store rooms…. I believe - instead of simply crying wolf !- that the correct approach for concerned citizens, worried about the safety of our heritage, is to forward any relevant information to the concerned authorities. I am sure that it will be followed by a quick investigation, and the media could be granted the scoop !!!
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