Egyptian Museum and the 2011 Threat of Riots Fires in Cairo (Egypt)

Even if the risk of looting has been minimized by Egyptian army, on 28th January, 2011, the ruling party headquarters building next door to the museum was in flames. The protesters torched it during the mass anti-government protests which swept across the capital. The potential collapse of a neighboring building caused by fire due to the riots has threatened the priceless artifacts kept in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.  Eventually, the building did not collapse, but if destroyed, it would have fallen over the museum.

Previously, some Egyptians armed with truncheons, created a human chain at the museum’s front gate to prevent looters from making off with any of its artefacts. Some looters have had the possibility to vandalize two mummies, ripping their heads off , taking some small artifacts out of their glass cases and clearing out the museum gift shop.

An interesting report about the thefts and the looting that has been perpetrated by the some 1.100 people who entered the Museum during the riots can be found in this Suzie Thomas report of TraffickingCulture.org.  

Image showing the Cairo 2011 riots that lead also to damages to the Cairo Egyptian Museum. Image from: LATimes
A moment of the riots that lead eventually to damages to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. According the LATimes “Vandals tore the heads off of two mummies inside the museum before the protective measures were taken”. Image from: LATimes

In the same days, rumors that attacks were planned against monuments prompted authorities to erect barriers and guard Karnak Temple while tanks were positioned around Luxor’s museum.

The risk to which the world cultural heritage is subjected by intentional acts is assuming an ever greater importance. The destruction of the statues of Bamyan in Central Afganistan in 2001, the attacks that in 1993 seriously damaged the Uffizi Museum in Florence and the Church of San Giorgio al Velabro in Rome (Italy) , the destruction of part of the cultural heritage in Iraq are just some of the recent cases to be taken into account.

To this end, the security of cultural heritage must also consider scenarios in which buildings and artefacts are the prime targets of hostile acts, which are normally designed to attack the fundamentals of communities’ cultural identity from the ground up.

ICCROM has launched several study initiatives on this sector. In 2005 has published an interesting report (proceedings of the Forum held in Rome held on October 4-6, 2005) about the recovery of Cultural Heritage after conflicts.

The introduction to such report, by Mr Nicholas Stanley-Price Cultural deserves to be quoted: “heritage must be recognized as a crucial element of the recovery process immediately following the end of an armed conflict, and not be considered a luxury to await attention later. it is argued that re-establishing the thread of continuity in people’s daily lives is a priority goal. the restoration of nationally symbolic monuments or the recovery of looted collections is only one element in the revival of cultural identity; instead, the significance to people of their home and its lands — and a popular desire immediately to revive traditional practices — are well documented and must be incorporated in primary recovery strategies. By means of examples, the paper aims to document the evident role that cultural heritage at a popular level plays in postwar situations. it ends by calling for better preparation by cultural heritage professionals to confront such situations of conflicts“.

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