Egypt prepares to safeguard heritage before 30 June

Nevine El-Aref , Friday 28 Jun 2013

Broad range of actors join call to protect Egypt heritage from looting during upcoming protests; enact tight security measures around sites

archive photos in January 2011

In advance of  mass protests planned for 30 June, fears of looting in Egypt's archaeological landmarks, museums, and sites are growing.

These fears have roots in the January 2011 revolution, during which looting occurred in Tahrir's Egyptian Museum as well as in archeological sites across the country. Although several objects were recovered, many others are still missing.

“I am very worried about Egypt’s archaeological sites,” said Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, deputy of the head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Section at the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA).

Abdel Maqsoud told Ahram Online that since the 2011 revolution, the lack of security in the country has posed many problems for the protection of antiquities.

While the 2011 revolution lootings were carried out haphazardly by thugs and vandals, Abdel Maqsoud fears that the 30 June protests will be different because antiquities thieves and traders had enough time to plan their robberies, especially of archeological sites in remote areas.

Abdel Maqsoud called on residents who live nearby archaeological sites and monuments to protect Egypt’s heritage.

“Protecting Egypt’s heritage is your responsibility to our civilisation and our beloved country,” said Abdel Maqsoud. He also asked citizens to collaborate with the police in order to protect the sites from illegal excavations.

Abdel Maqsoud told Ahram Online that the MSA, in collaboration with the Tourism and Antiquities Police (TAP), has established an archaeological committee to secure archaeological sites, museums and monuments across Egypt in preparation for potential turmoil during the 30 June rallies.

MSA minister Ahmed Eissa told Ahram Online that he has ordered all employees to undergo periodical inspections of the sites during this period.

He also asked for the support of Egyptians in this effort, as they did during an attack on the Egyptian Museum during the 2011 revolution.

On 28 January 2011, protestors at Tahrir Square formed a human chain around the museum in order to protect it from thugs and vandals trying to enter. Protestors also managed to detain thieves with stolen artifacts and hand them over to the police.

Egyptian museum director Sayed Amer explained that the museum’s security personnel are working in collaboration with the Public Security Agency (PSA) to protect the museum from all angles. The external wall of the museum has been heightened and barbed wired has been installed. The museum's surveillance cameras have also been inspected.

Director General of the Giza Plateau Mohamed Shiha also detailed security measures being undertaken at the plateau and at Khufu's solar boat museum, including surveillance camera tests.

Similar security measures were also enacted in Luxor and Aswan in order to safeguard its archaeological sites and monuments.

Major General Abdel Rahim Hassan, director of the TAP’s general administration, asserted that the TAP has drawn up a plan to protect monuments, archaeological sites and museums all over the country in collaboration with central security and MSA guards.

According to Hassan, these plans were designed to accommodate rumors that the well organised antiquities 'Mafia' will take advantage of 30 June protests.

Hassan asserted that tight security measures were being undertaken in all zones of interest, including security checkpoints equipped with armed forces, ambulances and fire brigades

“The Ministry of Interior is capable of safeguarding Egypt’s heritage, history and future from any risk,” confirmed Hassan.

The Tour Guides Syndicate has called on tour guides to protect Egypt’s sites, especially the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, according to syndicate head Mootaz El-Sayed.

The Revolution Youth Union (RYU) has asked protesters and the military to protect the country’s archaeological sites and museums ahead of anticipated protests.

The union's media spokesman Omar El-Hadary stated in a press conference that archaeological sites are no less important than banks and governmental institutions, which the police and army have planned to secure during 30 June demonstrations.

“Archaeological sites can be looted, as was the case in the January 2011 revolution. The purpose of securing these areas is to preserve Egypt’s distinguished heritage,” El-Hadary stated.

In a related move, the Independent Union of Archaeological Workers announced the formation of committees to protect museums and other historical sites, asking individuals to volunteer through Facebook.

Intellectuals participating in the culture ministry sit-in have called on the army to protect monuments.  They have also formed a committee in collaboration with junior archaeologists, curators and concerned citizens to hold tours around Egypt’s archaeological sites in order to raise awareness and to urge the public to play a role in securing the nation’s heritage.

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