Armed looters and violence threaten Egypt's heritage

Egypt’s heritage sector is in disarray following revolution and the collapse of the country’s government in 2011, with armed gangs, looters and general destruction placing the country’s rich cultural history in peril, according to an eminent academic.

Armed looters and violence threaten Egypt's heritage
Looters have destroyed several ancient Egyptian tombs
[Credit: World News Reportt]
A breakdown in security to culturally significant sites in Iraq in 2003 led to widespread looting and now the same is happening in Egypt, comparative with losses seen in other warring countries in the region such as Syria, which has suffered a similar breakdown in heritage and cultural protection.

The illicit excavation of archaeological sites in Egypt – carried out in the hope of finding antiquities that can then be smuggled out of the country for sale abroad – has been going on for centuries, but there has been a huge increase in such activities since the 2011 revolution.

In addition to looting heritage sites, museums have also been targeted, while violence led to the destruction of multiple sites in Cairo, including the bombing of the Islamic Museum.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo said problems in the country have become serious for heritage, and dangerous to protect.

“There has been an increase in the number of armed gangs, operating with instructions from one or more knowledgeable parties, targeting sites,” said Ikram.

“Looting is going on particularly in desert areas where it is very difficult to patrol. Often the looters are armed with automatic weapons, whereas the guards have limited firepower. The encroachment on the sites is also just as terrible, as it means that the history of Egypt is being lost to us forever.”

According to the US-based Antiquities Coalition, there have been “looting activities in every major archaeological area in Egypt since the January 2011 Revolution,” with looted artefacts worth tens of millions of dollars now routinely showing up for auction in both Europe and North America.

Images of the lootings, which include desecrated ancient tombs and other historic sites, can be seen on Egypt’s Heritage Task Force Facebook page, which shows just some of the damage caused since the 2011 revolution.

In an effort to combat looters, the Egyptian government has asked the US to approve emergency measures to allow US customs authorities to seize Egyptian artefacts entering the United States, even in the absence of precise information that the artefacts may have been stolen. At present though, there is no block, meaning sales of stolen artefacts continues.

UNESCO only currently lists Abu Mena, south of Alexandria as an endangered site, though the problem seems to be much more widespread and far more dangerous for Egypt’s ailing heritage sites.

Author: Tom Anstey | Source: World News Report [July 29, 2014]

Posted by TANN on 8:30 PM. Filed under , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0

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