As protests sweep Egypt and offer hope for a new future, archeological experts warn that the country's famous artifacts and historic sites are at risk of being damaged.
Last Friday, a few days after Egypt's protests began on Jan. 25, looters seized the opportunity to break into the Egyptian Museum, which abuts the center of the protests in Cairo, Tahrir Square, and houses thousands of artifacts. The looters damaged at least 70 objects including two statues from the King Tutankhamun collection, according to Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief antiquities official.
See photographs of the artifacts damaged.
The museum has since been protected by troops, tanks and a "human chain of civilian volunteers," reports the Los Angeles Times.
"It's the heart of our civilization," Ali Said, 32, told the Los Angeles Times as he stood guard Tuesday. "And it's not just for us; it belongs to the entire world."
Many of Egypt's sites and artifacts extend back 3,000 to 4,000 years.
Egypt is "literally a museum and store room for ancient history. I don’t believe it would be an overstatement to say it is one of the great cultural legacies of humanity," said Terry Garcia, executive vice president of National Geographic Mission Programs, in a posting on the National Geographic.
The army is now securing Egypt's two dozen antiquities museums and main pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, but many artifacts are kept in warehouses that do not have that level of security and are therefore vulnerable to theft, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Hawass insists that the majority of Egypt's museums and sites are safe, and that the country will not fall to the same chaos and destruction that resulted in destruction of artifacts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to The New York Times.
“People are asking me, ‘Do you think Egypt will be like Afghanistan?’” he said. “And I say, ‘No, Egyptians are different — they love me because I protect antiquities.’"
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