30 January 2011

Unrest in Egypt

In light of recent events in Egypt, it is astonishing to learn that tourists are still visiting the ancient sites! Saturday afternoon the authorities closed the Pyramids of Giza to tourists. As I watched the coverage on Al Jazeera I was amazed to see the large numbers of tourists being turned away and reboarding their buses.

Dr Zahi Hawass, Chairman of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities was interviewed by Al Jazeerah about the fire burning the National Democratic Party building located next door to the museum. In a statement that was sadly prophetic he said “If it (the museum) is damaged through looting or fire, it would be a loss to all humankind.” Later when it was discovered that looters were, in fact in the building he said “They managed to stop them.” He added that the would-be looters had vandalized two mummies by ripping their heads off and had cleared out the museum’s gift shop.

Nine men took advantage of the damage to the museum’s security caused by the fire next door and entered the museum. They were apprehended by police and a crowd of civilians as they attempted to make off with the skulls of two mummies and two statues estimated to be more than 2,000 years old.
In addition to the vandalism of the mummies some of the King Tutankhamun collection were damaged by the miscreants. A ritual figure of King Tut Hunting a Hippopotamus and ritual figure of King Tut Astride a Panther were smashed. Both objects date to around 1324 BCE and were part of the trove discovered in 1922. Many of the glass cases housing the artefacts were smashed as seen in this clip from Al Jazeera English:

There was some speculation at the German ZDF Television that a high-ranking member of the ruling NDP was involved in the looting. As of this writing I have been unable to confirm this information.

On a different note, I’ve just received tweets from several friends saying that Al Jazeera offices have been closed by the Egyptian officials and banned from further reporting on the protests. In the first few days of protests not one media outlet considered it newsworthy. Al Jazeera was there. They have provided 24 hour coverage and analysis of the events in Egypt as they happened and have done a superb job. This doesn’t bode well, particularly considering the fact that the entire country has been almost completely blacked out by the government. Cell phones, Twitter, Facebook and in some cases land lines have been interrupted in order to prevent the outside world knowing what is happening there. For the first time since the invention of the internet, the regime has shut it down throughout the country.

An Al Jazeera spokesman said they will continue strong coverage despite the fact that the Egyptian Ministry of Information have revoked their license to broadcast. In a statement they said,

“Al Jazeera sees this as an act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists. In this time of deep turmoil and unrest in Egyptian society it is imperative that voices from all sides be heard; the closing of our bureau by the Egyptian government is aimed at censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people.

“Al Jazeera assures it audiences in Egypt and across the world that it will continue its in-depth and comprehensive reporting on the events unfolding in Egypt.

“Al Jazeera journalists have brought unparallelled reporting from the ground from across Egypt in the face of great danger and extraordinary circumstances. Al Jazeera network is appalled at this latest attack by the Egyptian regime to strike at its freedom to report independently on the unprecedented events in Egypt.”

Does Mubarak really think he can overcome this?

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