Plundering Egypt’s heritage

By | Category: Travel news

Plundering relics, tombs and the pyramids in Egypt has a long tradition going back thousands of years. Obviously how much we have lost and never know that we have lost will never be known. In the last twenty years of so, heritage sites that would normally visited by hundreds of thousands of people have been desecrated. Places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Mali have been affected by conflict. A development company in Peru levelled a pyramid there without permission and we heard stories two years ago of the museum in Cairo being looted.

Now, from the international version of the magazine Der Spiegel, comes more distressing news from Egypt. Their reporter, Raniah Salloum says that pillagers – some heavily armed – are looting unexplored or partly explored sites. At the pyramids in Saqqara, they carried weapons and emptied a warehouse. Other stories of organised gangs working at night at sites as well known as Dahshur, Aswan and Luxor and fending off stationed soldiers with automatic weapons is deeply dispiriting.

The conflict amongst Egyptians has seemed to encourage more plundering of Egyptian heritage. Visitors used to only go to Egypt precisely because that heritage was central to how the world developed. The Red Sea resorts that have grown up have offered another visitor attraction but it is heritage that one thinks of first and foremost. Press conferences given by past tourism ministers that I have attended have referred to Egypt as being where life began.

What can be done about this desecration of Egyptian sites? The answer is greater patrols by policing authorities but given the internal conflict in the country is this feasible? More tourism might help as there would be more people around which might dissuade all but the most committed thieves. But it looks as though these thieves are committed as why else would they have automatic weapons and be so well organised. these are no opportunists who are theiving to raise a few bits of cash to feed families.

Is it time the UN considered a new role; that of an international protection force for sites of world importance? The very least the UN could do would be to encourage in the strongest way a ban on the sale of antiquities so that there was no demand for those items being stolen.

Maybe then, visitors and Egyptians will have something to see and enjoy in the future.

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