AFP: Troops replace tourists at Egyptian Museum
AFP: Troops replace tourists at Egyptian Museum.
CAIRO — The Abrams tank points its gun barrel at the crowd of protesters raging against the regime on Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Behind it lies the world-famous Egyptian Museum.
After a break-in late last month left a number of glass cabinets smashed and 70 precious objects damaged, including two mummies, a significant military force was deployed around the renowned rose stone building.
Soldiers in battle dress — heavy helmets, flak jackets and Kalashnikovs — stand guard every 20 metres (yards) behind the gates. Alongside them, firefighters in yellow helmets. Armoured vehicles are visible in the courtyard and beyond.
Shut for the last eight days, the museum borders one of the avenues that became a frontline between pro- and anti-regime forces who hurled stones at each other from behind makeshift barricades of burnt out cars and mounds of debris.
On Friday afternoon, when tens of thousands of people unleashed their rage against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak demanding his ‘day of departure,’ no one was allowed to approach within 20 metres (yards) of the gate.
The embattled museum has on display about 120,000 priceless relics.
“It is secure, very secure, we are not worried,” Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass told AFP, playing down the risks of theft.
He recalled the role of demonstrators who helped catch the January 28 intruders and return the stolen artefacts. They formed a “human chain” to protect the museum from looters until the army came to secure it.
“What happened in Egypt is very rare, to see the army and the people join forces to protect the museum,” Hawass said.
He said all the damaged artefacts, including two Tutankhamen sculptures, can be restored and nothing had been stolen.
Two petrol-bombs landed inside the grounds of the museum on Wednesday when pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators clashed. Police doused the flames of a tree which caught fire with a water cannon until fire fighters took over.
The building escaped untouched but images of the event beamed around the world sparked a chorus of concern of archaeologists and curators who called for urgent action to protect the museum’s collection, which includes King Tut’s death mask.
In London, the British Museum said the Egyptian Museum boasts objects “of unique importance to world heritage.”
“It is a matter of the greatest concern that these irreplaceable objects should be fully protected to ensure their safety and survival for future generations,” it said.
Outside the museum gates in Cairo, tour guide Mahmud al-Wakeel, 37, rues the exodus of foreigners that has left him temporarily without livelihood.
But he expresses confidence that Egypt’s treasure trove of antiquities means they will not stay away for long.
“Yes, I haven’t worked in two weeks. There are no more visitors to Cairo. They’ve all fled to their countries,” he said.
“But they will come back. You see that museum? Next year, or the one after, they will come back for it.”