Army, Protesters protect imperiled Cairo Museum

NDP headquarters in flames, January 28th, CairoThe Egyptian Museum in Cairo has found itself in a perilous location because of the anti-government protests that have rocked the country over the past few days. It is next door to the headquarters of the National Democratic Party in Tahrir Square, a focal point of protest. There have been reports of government buildings being looted, continuing explosions downtown and the NDP headquarters is burning with no firefighters on the way.

Unconfirmed stories emerged earlier today that people were attempting to break into the museum to plunder it. Al Jazeera’s live feed reported that thousands of civilian protesters formed a human chain around the Egyptian Museum to keep any would-be looters away. That story appears to be true.

The greatest threat to the Egyptian Museum first appeared to come from the fire enguling the ruling party headquarters next door on Friday night as anti-government protests roiled the country.

Then dozens of would-be thieves started entering the grounds surrounding the museum.

Suddenly other young men — some armed with truncheons taken from the police — formed a human chain outside the main gates on Tahrir Square in an attempt to protect the collection inside.

“I’m standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure,” said one of the men, Farid Saad, a 40-year-old engineer.

Another man, 26-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim, said it was important to guard the museum because it “has 5,000 years of our history. If they steal it, we’ll never find it again.”

Finally, four armored vehicles took up posts outside the massive coral-colored building in downtown Cairo. Soldiers surrounded the building and moved inside to protect mummies, monumental stone statues, ornate royal jewelry and other pharaonic artifacts.

It’s a beautiful thing, and a testament to the profound connection contemporary Egyptians have to their ancient past.

Unfortunately neither the army nor a human cordon can keep the museum from catching fire, so it’s still in urgent peril. The building doesn’t even have to catastrophically burn down for sparks and smoke to cause enormous damage to the precious antiquities within. Egypt’s dry climate means a great number of highly flammable ancient organic materials have survived the millennia. The museum is packed with wood furniture, papyri, ancient textiles, even food and, of course, human bodies. The golden death mask of Tutankhamun is a lot less danger than they are.

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6 Comments »

Comment by edahstip
2011-01-28 22:38:23

Mummies take extra damage from fire, it’s true.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-01-29 15:33:02

You can’t really kill them any other way.

 
 
Comment by Stephanie Thornton
2011-01-29 00:02:07

This made me teary eyed, both the image of the ring of people protecting the museum and the thought that any of those treasures might disappear.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-01-29 15:34:41

Me too. I’ll be on pins on needles until this is all over.

 
 
Comment by Estara
2011-01-29 11:34:11

I just pray those things never get damaged. If the riots are successful in getting what they want, all will regret destroying national and historical treasures.
The museum has never hurt anyone – leave it alone.
You can get your fortune somewhere else.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-01-29 15:36:11

Judging from the quick action yesterday, it seems to me the majority of protesters are dead set on keeping Egypt’s cultural patrimony from being violated. It’s the opportunistic bastards who see an opportunity for lucre I worry about.

 
 
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