Sunday, 13 March 2011
Worrying things in Egypt
Funnily enough I was planning to go to Egypt this year, to research a mooted book on the Mameluks and the Crusaders, which however I'd put on hold so that I can catch up with other projects. I might have found myself in the middle of a revolution. I have mixed feelings about what I've been hearing from that country. On the one hand it is good to see the people achieving self determination (if indeed they do) and being vigilant to defend such heritage sites as the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. On the other hand there have been shocking and distressing events such as attacks on Coptic Monasteries, apparently with the connivance of Islamist elements in the Egyptian army, which is presently running the show- promising to hand power to a civilian democratic government in due course. One hopes they will, but juntas have a rather poor record in such scenarios.
The situation for Egypt's antiquities is also rather worrying. Dr Hawass has resigned, clearly distressed due to his inability to prevent armed looters from raiding various stores of archaeological finds. Most shocking was the sight of the damage done to some of Tutankhamun's treasures by looters who got into the Cairo museum. I saw some of there very objects in London a few years back, at the Tutankhamun exhibition at the dome, and was impressed by their quality and pristine condition. Little did I think that they would suffer such vandalism within such a short period. It seems much of the damage may be reparable, and a missing Akhenaten statues has meanwhile been returned, which is good news, but still it is a worrying time.
I wish Egypt well and hope a democracy emerges and a theocracy or military dictatorship doesn't materialise. Egypt has so far got off relatively lightly, as the events in Libya reveal what can happen when a repressive regime digs its heels in.
I look forward to going to see the Afghan treasures currently on show in the British Museum. I hope these artifcacts have a safe future, too, although that seems less than assured.