August 19, 2013; Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)


The chaos that erupted last week in Cairo has left neighboring cities and towns largely without police or security protection, making them vulnerable to attacks from opportunistic thieves and vandals. The Malawi Museum in the city of Minya was subject to such an attack, as pieces of art and historical artifacts were stolen or destroyed by groups of men and teenage boys who kept the museum staff at bay with machine-gun fire, killing at least one.

The Star Tribune article describes the Malawi as “a testament to the Amarna Period, named after its location in southern Egypt that was once the royal residence of Nefertiti.” Among the items stolen were a statue of the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, beaded jewelry, Greek and Roman coins, and a limestone statue dated at more than 3,500 years old. Egypt’s Heritage Task Force estimated that 1,050 pieces were stolen from the museum, and that’s not even counting the burned mummies or the items broken after being deemed “too heavy to lift.”

Monica Hanna, an archaeologist on the scene, confronted some of the armed attackers. “I told them that this is property of the Egyptian people and you are destroying it,” she said. “They were apparently upset with me because I am not veiled.” When she asked them to stop their acts of destruction, “they said they were getting back at the government for killing people in Cairo.”

The head of museums for the Antiquities Ministry, Ahmed Sharaf, accused members of ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, who have been spearheading protests against the government, of being behind the looting and attacks on the nearby police station. Some hardline religious allies of Morsi view Egypt’s ancient history as pagan. Hanna, on the other hand, believes that the damage was mostly perpetrated by “heavily armed gangs of thieves who took advantage of the lawlessness to target the museum.”—Jason Schneiderman