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Cairo Museum

“Irreversible Damage” has occurred to this history and identity of Egyptian people

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The contrast couldn’t be greater – the extraordinary and enduring civilization of ancient Egypt in which cities were adorned with great and beautiful monuments is now left in ruins and many of the once revered statues lie in a ‘destroyed and restored’ room of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo.

During the last years of civil unrest and political instability in Egypt, the mainstream news was busy reporting on the dangerous clashes and the numerous changes in leadership. But quietly in the background, another tragedy was unfolding.

The Egyptian Museum of Cairo, which was at the centre of massive rallies that toppled two presidents since 2011, lost hundreds of its prized possessions while many others were destroyed. In fact, out of the total of 1,089 artefacts inventories at the museum, 1,039 were stolen.  More than 600 of those items have now been reclaimed, but 400 others are yet to be found. By now, they would be long gone, far away from Egypt and probably sitting on the mantelpiece of a wealthy antiquities collector.

While Egypt has struggled for years now to shape its future after the January 2011 revolution, its prized past has fallen victim to sporadic violence and security lapses. Now, the museum’s walls carry paint marks covering up graffiti which targeted ousted successor Mohamed Morsi, and the museum’s chambers are virtually deserted. Inside, a sign reading ‘Destroyed and Restored’ leads the way to a room where items destroyed by vandals have been salvaged, including several statues of King Tutankhamen.

One of the scariest moments happened during the uprising against Mubarak in 2011 when looters broke through the museum’s ceiling and ran rampage through the corridors, destroying artefacts including mummies and statues and stealing valuable treasures. Of course, what was happening outside was even worse - hundreds of civilians were killed ruing the uprising.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said the museum's looting constituted "irreversible damage to the history and identity of the Egyptian people".

Placing the Kingdoms of ancient Egypt side-by-side with Egypt today, the Nation would be unrecognisable. But this is not just a reflection on a single country, but humanity as a whole. How long has it been since a great civilization flourished and where great monuments which take a century to construct were erected and revered?  Today, our priorities have shifted and we live in a society where greed and power-seeking is the religion of the day.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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