I've had a lifelong fascination with ancient Egypt and try to keep abreast of exiting new discoveries being made all the time. Although the feisty Zahi Hawass seems to have done a great job of demanding and usually getting the great treasures of Egypt returned from exile all over the world, I've never been entirely comfortable that they would be as safe in Cairo as they are in London and New York. Egypt has, under his leadership, also done a great deal to excavate the vast number of sites still available for scientific study, using Egyptian resources and the power of an autocratic government to overcome obstacles. It has been apparent that the value to science as well as to tourism has been taken into account, but apparently the defenses and security of the 109 year old Cairo Museum, which houses the most precious and fragile objects are not adequate.
I was horrified to learn, and I'm sure the archaeological community of the world is horrified as well to learn that the museum was broken into by what the US media are calling a democratic revolution and that two more pharaohs have now returned unto their dust: two more of the gods of Egypt are now just names carved on walls.
Looters broke in, ransacked the ticket office and destroyed two royal mummies Friday night, said Zahi Hawass, chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, yesterday.
"I felt deeply sorry today when I came this morning to the Egyptian Museum and found that some had tried to raid the museum by force last night."Hawass is a man not known for understatement or for being reluctant to speak his mind. Associates call him the Pharaoh and that word carries a multitude of sentiments. Of course his position with the Mubarak government makes him vulnerable and the location of the museum, next door to the National Democratic Party headquarters which was set on fire and was still smoking as of yesterday, is unfortunate.
Both private citizens and members of the tourism police attempted to defend the cultural patrimony of Egypt, but weren't entirely successful. Of course this doesn't quite equal the extent of the rape of the Baghdad Museum in 2003, but the struggle isn't over with and the long term outcome is unknown.
The heart of this uprising is still being weighed in the balance and so far, it's not lighter than the feather of Ma'at against which souls are measured. But I do have a certain level of confidence in a few things having to do with revolutions and mass uprisings: They're always a mixed blessing, they all come at great cost and they often open the door to worse things than were just tossed out the window. As much as I respect the right of countries to own their cultural patrimony, I'm quite certain that for the moment, treasures like the copies of the Book of the Dead now on display at the British Museum until March are quite a bit safer than anything of value in Cairo.