THE director of Cairo’s famous Egypt Museum told last night how his quick- thinking actions prevented “catastrophe” after the building was stormed by looters – by turning out the lights.
More than 2,000 protesters forced their way into the grounds of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities on January 28, three days after the first protests which led to the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Demonstrators had already set the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party on fire. The building is next to the 120-year-old colonial-style museum, home to more than 120,000 priceless artefacts dating back as far as 2620BC and the reign of Sneferu, founder of the Fourth Dynasty.
Looters fled with several objects including priceless statues of King Tutankhamun and Queen Nefertiti, wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, but they did not grab Tutankhamun’s world-famous gold mask.
Mr Tarek El Awady, who has only held his post as the museum’s director general for a few weeks, said: “Next door the NDP building was on fire, and we were already worried because we are only separated by a small garden and a wall. Then they came to us.
“We had never seen anything like this. We were caught totally unprepared and frankly, we were overwhelmed.
“There must have been around 2,000 people. Many were pushing, trying to break down the doors, but the doors are made of steel and are strong.”