I have not written anything about the uprising in Egypt mainly because I’m still mostly dumbstruck. Egypt seems to be caught in a three-way vise between Mubarak and his supporters, the pro-democracy demonstrators, and Muslim extremists, who hope to leverage the pro-democratic uprising because they believe the majority of Egyptians would favor a Sharia state. (According to Pew Global data , 85% of Egyptians believe it’s a good thing for Islam to play a role in government; only 2% say this is a bad thing.) I don’t envy the US State Department or other world governments attempting to respond appropriately to the tangle of thorny issues involved.
In the midst of all the human tragedy and uncertainty, there is also a threat to Egypt’s cultural heritage. The following map from Ancient Egypt Online shows the areas of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum:
This map is based off of Al Jazeera footage. Please note that it is currently unknown which mummies have been damaged – but based off the footage, it appears that it could be the mummies of Yuya & Thuya [King Tutankhamun’s grandparents—DJP]. We will keep you updated as we learn more.
The good news is that most of the protesters had enough respect for their heritage to form a human chain around the museum. This kept many of the looters out. Unfortunately, Muslim extremists take a very dim view of their countries’ cultures before the coming of Islam. This era is considered the time of jahiliya or “darkness,” and it is generally disparaged if not erased. One can only hope, therefore, that the treasures of ancient Egypt do not suffer the same fate as the Bamiyan Buddhas.
I suspect this unrest will give the Berlin and British museums additional reasons for not returning famous antiquities.
So frightening to contemplate the possible consequences. And when I saw the news about the damaged mummies and artifacts–unspeakable. I recently heard a stroy on NPR about Egypt (before this started, maybe a month or so ago) that talked about the numbers of people who are homeless because they were forced to move out of a section of fairly nice homes for a road project of some kind. They were told to go to a certain office to get the form that would reimburse them at least a portion of cost and allow them to move into a mostly empty complex of apts. And turns out there were no forms, and those people are living in tents for more than two years–in sight of the empty apt. building. Only one little snippet of the story…but illustrative of the frustration of living under present conditions.