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Egypt's historical artifacts in peril as unrest continues
Monday August 26, 2013 12:16 PM, IANS

The ongoing political turmoil in Egypt has jeopardised the country's priceless historical artifacts.

In one of the biggest looting incidents the world has even seen, over 1,000 artifacts were stolen from the Malawi museum in central Minya Aug 14, Xinhua reported.

A security vacuum was created after Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the military in early July. The situation worsened when clashes erupted between troops and Morsi's loyalists Aug 14 after the dispersal of two pro-Morsi sit-ins in the country.

The looters, taking advantage of the hap, burnt the museum and destroyed a number of mummies and statues that were too huge to be carried away.

"I wonder why didn't the government take some necessary measures to protect museums during the expected turmoil," said Mohamed el-Kahlawy, professor of archaeology and Islamic culture at Cairo University.

El-Kahlawy accused the government of gross negligence that left many museums and archaeological sites vulnerable.

"They should have at least evacuated valuable pieces from museums and tightened security around those sites," he said.

During the Malawi museum theft, one employee was killed, while other security guards ran for their lives.

"No one denies the humble security measures in the museum, but what had happened there was unprecedented and unexpected," said Shadia Mahmoud, head of the international cooperation department at the ministry of antiquities.

"But what the museum could do is limited.

"The biggest problem is the large number of illegal diggings across the country where unregistered pieces can easily find their way into international markets. What's more, there were frequent attacks on archaeological sites with the purposes of building houses, cemeteries or for agricultural production," Shadia said.

It is impossible to control those diggings. The only solution will be spreading awareness among people about the value of those artifacts, Shadia added.

Mahmoud agreed that great efforts should be exerted both from the Egyptian government and the international organisations although they seem to be reluctant to offer practical help. UNESCO remained silent for several days after the incident.

The Malawi Museum was not the only victim of the recent unrest. A number of churches -- some centuries-old, were also burnt or looted, and the ancient Egyptian royal necropolis of Dahshur was subjected to a failed attempt of encroachment.

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