Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Big situation.

Finding something to write about has been all too easy these past few weeks. For those of you who are new to these issues or who have had your head under a rock for the past month, Zahi Hawass has resigned as the director of antiquities in Egypt. According to his website, he is leaving his post because he is no longer in a position to prevent the sudden rise in looting of sites and storage houses, and cannot bring any tourism to the country in its current state. He stated that he would only come back if there were a police force in place to protect antiquities and sites, but that currently antiquities are in too much danger for him to stay and watch the mess continue. Paul Barford has reported that a replacement for Hawass has already been appointed, but so far I have found no other reports confirming it.

Hawass is most well-known for his success in bringing tourism to Egypt and for his constant demands for the return of some of Egypt's more notable pieces, like the bust of Nefertiti. He has generated huge interest in Egyptian archaeology and history by repeatedly making headlines for his brash requests that certain pieces be repatriated. Many find his approach obnoxious and believe Hawass is more interested in media attention than Egypt itself. However, it can't be denied that his admittedly loud-mouth approach has essentially created the tourist trade in Egypt and generated a huge amount of attention for cultural heritage and issues of repatriation. So, if you haven't already read about these issues, lemme just tell you this is BIG NEWS for those of us who care.

Since his resignation, Hawass has allowed the truth about the current situation to come to light. Since the Egyptian Army has withdrawn from protecting sites and storage buildings, there has been no armed force able to prevent armed looters from pillaging whole buildings and sites. On Friday, a group of 35 looters attacked the storage magazines at Tell el-Fara'in and took all the artifacts associated with that area. On Saturday, forty armed men attacked an antiquities warehouse in Kafr el-Sheikh. The looters shot and injured several security men at the site.

Even though it appears that storage facilities with already excavated materials are a major source for looters, there is no guarantee that there is a record of the materials inside. Many of the artifacts stolen have never been described or published, so the loss of information is almost as great as if they had been ripped right out of the ground.

If you don't already care about these issues, now's the time to start. What's happening in Egypt is a more highly publicized example of what has been going on in countries like Iraq and Peru for decades. With Egypt so present in our news media, the illicit antiquities trades' connections to violence and organized crime is incredibly apparent, and I think it's pretty impossible for the general population to ignore the huge losses and risks at hand. Egypt's tragedy is providing a great opportunity for you busy little student bees to generate some buzz. You can start by joining Say Yes to Egypt on facebook!

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