Thursday, February 03, 2011

Protecting Egyptian Museum in Cairo

I had a chance to see the Egyptian Antiquities Museum this past December - and it is absolutely amazing. It is not often that one has a chance to see, up close, statues and other objects 3000-4000 years old! Many of these artifacts are in very good condition. And then you have the mummies. It is quite awesome to see the mummy of Ramesses the Great (also, Ramesses II). He was 90 years old when he died - but his mummy still projects a royal elegance. Okay - so may be I was reading too much into it, but it is just amazing to see some of the pharaohs from up so close. By the way, Ramesses II may also have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus (at least according to Brier) - played by Yul Brynner in the Ten Commandments. C'mon - you can't mess with Yul Brynner!

These are not just Egyptian treasures. These are the cultural heritage of the whole world. I really hope that there is no more damage to the museum. It was heartening to see Egyptians from all walks of life coming to form a ring around the museum last Saturday, in reaction to the earlier reports of lootings (see picture below). Unfortunately, some damage was already done.

Mohammed Yahia has recently written about the potential dangers to the museum, and has posted this video of the outside of the museum during the protests:

And below is a clip of Dr. Bob Brier talking about the damage to the museum so far. By the way, Dr. Brier has an excellent course on the History of Ancient Egypt with the Teaching Company. If you are ever planning on taking a trip to Egypt - and you definitely should - go through his 48 lectures, and these will really allow you to appreciate the depth and richness of the ancient Egyptian civilization.


Quellspring said...

Given the magnitude and immediacy of the challenges facing the people of Egypt now and in the coming weeks, it may be understandably difficult to conjure up any concern for the inanimate objects of a previous era. Even as a curator, I understand that the people involved in or most directly affected by the protests must first attend to their political predicament (to say nothing of personal safety) and worry about mummies, vases, and so forth later. But here's the thing: eventually, the dust will settle. People will return to their homes, a new government will emerge victorious, but all of the artifacts that are so imperiled now will be just a intellectually priceless as they were a century ago and will be a century from now. These objects have seen and survived dozens of governments, centuries of popular unrest, and multiple invasions. The bitterest irony is that many of the artifacts that have been destroyed are the ones that have the most to tell us about the fragility of authoritarian rule: momentarily powerful pharaohs supplanted each other until their rules were so weakened the kingdoms dissolved, buried by the very earth they once ruled. The remains of ancient civilizations within the bounds of modern (or aspiring) nation-states provide a salient and inspiring lesson about the legacy of democracy; it is the values of the makers of the artifacts, a population--not just its rulers--that are preserved.

The people of Egypt have demonstrated their mettle, and they deserve the support of those of us who enjoy the benefits (including museums, arts, and sciences) of a stable democracy. They deserve it now, they deserved it 29 years ago, and they will deserve it next month when CNN forgets all about them. They also deserve to have access to their own past, their own national and cultural identity, when they begin to rebuild their lives. People who risk their livelihoods, their personal safety, everything that is familiar to them to publicly demand justice and political accountability embody heroism. But the the people who locked arms around the national museum aren't far behind, and ought to give pause to those of us who take our natural and cultural resources for granted.

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