I raised a few questions related to what could have been done to better protect the Egyptian Museum in comments on Larry Rothfield’s blog, The Punching Bag. He has promptly responded with the following:
So, what alternative steps could have been taken? Here are a few, for starters:
a) the tourism police, who apparently were the forces available to Hawass, should have been deployed in greater numbers. Of course, if the number of looters attacking the museum is in the hundreds or thousands, antiquities police cannot be expected to hold the fort, but in this case the number of looters was small and could have been fended off if all the entrypoints had been covered, it seems.
b) citizens should have been organized in advance into a “Protectors of the Museum” or some such civil-society disaster-assistance group like the Blue Shields. My information may be wrong, but what I have heard is that Egypt has no Blue Shield, and nothing like SAFE. Given Hawass’ celebrity it would have been a snap to organize such a group, which would have arrived earlier and had a stronger plan for stopping looters than the deeply moving ad hoc human chain did.
c) the museum should have had a standing arrangement with the Egyptian army to have forces deploy immediately upon request.
I question whether or not Hawass has that much control over the tourism police. Clearly, the police should have been deployed sooner, so if Hawass had total control, then why weren’t they? The situation in Egypt deteriorated so quickly that it was likely difficult for the cultural officials to develop contingency plans to prevent the looting of its institutions. Evidently, the security of Cairo’s cultural institutions took a backseat to the more critical public safety and the maintenance of fundamental law and order. In light of the chaos and confusion, it also appears as if most citizens (except for the estimated thousand who formed a human chain around the Egyptian Museum) were concerned for the safety and security of their residences. Today, the Financial Times reported that over the weekend citizens across Cairo organized themselves into “self-protection groups” to fend off gangs of looters.
Art Theft Central: Opinions on the Egyptian Museum’s Security Protocols.