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Ancient Egyptian Land at Risk of Destruction

Ancient Egyptian Land at Risk of Destruction

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Ancient and valuable land in Egypt is at risk of destruction as illegal building gathers pace near the Black Pyramid at Dahshur, 25 miles south of Cairo. The land of the Pharaohs is being excavated to make room for the burial of the dead as cemeteries in Dahshur reach their maximum.

For Ahmed Rageb, a carpenter who buried his cousin in the annexe, burying the dead in protected land was a logical decision. "The old cemetery is full. And there is no other place to bury my family" he said.  Others believe it is the right of the local villagers to use the land.  "All the people are born here," Reda Dabus, a local resident said. "They died here. They should have the right to be buried here." Inhabitable land is hard to come by in Egypt, where 99% of the population live on 5.5% of the territory.

However, more than 1,000 illegal tombs have been dug perilously close to some of Egypt’s oldest, a trend that has increased since the fall of Mubarak in 2011, and archaeologists are afraid that sacred land and archaeologically significant sites will be damaged beyond repair.  Some also believe that digging new tombs is just a way to cover up looting. "They use the new tombs to hide what they are doing," explained Ramadan al-Qot, a site inspector who grew up in the village. 

The situation is symptomatic of a deterioration in law and order since the fall of the Mubarak regime.  After the revolution, citizens felt more confident to rise against authority and the police would not do anything which has left it to the site inspectors to fend for themselves against the rise in looting and land grabs.  "That's the reason for the building: the revolution," agreed Abdo Diab, a carpenter who has built a tomb at Dahshur. "All the people now, we are not afraid of the army or the police or any government."

Others have argued that the illegal buildings has stemmed from locals’ economic and social alienation from their ancient heritage. As one local resident explained: “So many people don't think about the pyramids. They haven't any jobs. If the government gave them jobs, they would save the pyramids”.

By April Holloway

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