Egyptian Antiquities In Peril; Troops Guard Museum

Tumultuous protests sweeping across the country carry the hope of a new government, a thrilling prospect for a beleaguered citizenry, writes Laura King in the Los Angeles Times. But as looters move to take advantage of the unrest, archaeological experts warn that Egypt’s treasure trove of antiquities is in peril.

The center of the protest movement, Tahrir Square, abuts the Egyptian Museum, home to thousands of priceless artifacts encompassing centuries of Pharaonic history. For days, the ochre-colored neoclassical building in the heart of Cairo has been closely guarded by troops, tanks, and a human chain of civilian volunteers, but not before it was broken into last week by looters.

The raiders did little serious damage, antiquities officials said, though chaos in the surrounding streets has prevented a thorough reckoning. At least two mummies were damaged, along with a number of smaller objects, and some display cases were smashed, said museum director Tarek Awady. Thieves were said to have penetrated the gated gallery containing the prized King Tutankhamen collection, one of the museum’s main attractions, but apparently broke only a single statue.

That breach, on Friday night, galvanized a contingent of impassioned defenders who have pledged to keep plunderers at bay. Some have been outside the museum since word of the first attack, determined to protect the country’s cultural patrimony.

“It’s the heart of our civilization,” said thirty-two-year-old Ali Said, perspiring in the noonday heat as he stood guard outside the museum Tuesday, arms linked with those of men standing beside him. “And it’s not just for us; it belongs to the entire world.”