Ancient Respect in Egypt

The recent events in Egypt have sparked an online storm of journalists, photographers, tweeters, bloggers, columnists and the like, all trying to get their two cents in, either to be involved in the action or to critique the political implications.

For those of you who have been out of the loop for some or other reason, the Arab world is undergoing a makeover at the moment. First a young Tunisian man by the name of Mohammad Bouazizi had his street cart confiscated by police. He set himself on fire and died of his wounds three days later. The uprising this caused, as well as the brutal murder of Khaled Said by police in Egypt, catalysed a similar revolution in Egypt. Jordan is reporting similar uprisings now as well, with the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, firing his entire cabinet in an attempt to calm the masses. Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has been in power for thirty years and Egyptians are calling for a democracy. As the most populous country in Africa with 60 million inhabitants, the eyes of the world are on Egypt at the moment.

I recently saw images of women amongst the male protesters in both Tunisia and Egypt. After some research I discovered that Tunisian women are unique in the Arab world, enjoying near equal gender status to men. Egyptian women, unfortunately, do not appear to have been as fortunate during their uprising, with looters and rapists plunging the city of Cairo into turmoil. One of the articles I read (which I’ve unfortunately been unsuccessful at tracking down again) was written by an American journalist. In it he mentions that his Egyptian informant had witnessed sixteen rapes from his flat alone. I am not saying that these gender divides are the norm for the entire country, especially when Egypt is at a time of peace, but the articles on the widespread rape in the Egyptian capital I’ve been reading have shocked me. This raping, looting, and destruction is arguably the norm for any war-torn country, especially during the time of a revolution, but it is still deeply disturbing to read about.

Eventually my extensive absorption into the violence of these protests led me to a blog post about looters damaging the living history of Egypt by breaking into the Egyptian National Museum and the Cairo Museum, stealing ancient jewellery and smashing artefacts. As a Classical Civilisation major I cringed at the thought of this priceless heritage being destroyed. Then I read that Egyptian civilians had formed a human fence around the Cairo Museum to protect it from looters.

Egyptians form human fence around Cairo museum to protect it from looters.
Egyptians form human fence around Cairo museum to protect it from looters.

This was one of the most moving things I have read in a long time, and I’m pleased to see that it is not the only solidarity I have read about coming from Egypt in the past few weeks.

A member of the Egyptian special forces stands guard on the main floor of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo on Monday. Would-be looters broke into Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum, ripping the heads off two mummies and damaging about 75 small artefacts.
A member of the Egyptian special forces stands guard on the main floor of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo on Monday. Would-be looters broke into Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum, ripping the heads off two mummies and damaging about 75 small artefacts.

My sentiments are echoed in this statement by renowned Egyptian archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawasson  on the situation of Egyptian antiquities today:

My heart is broken and my blood is boiling. I feel that everything I have done in the last nine years has been destroyed in one day, but all the inspectors, young archaeologists, and administrators, are calling me from sites and museums all over Egypt to tell me that they will give their life to protect our antiquities.

An Egyptian woman who goes by the Twitter handle, @NevineZaki, tweeted a picture she took of Coptic Christians forming a human shield around praying Muslims in Tahrir Square by holding hands with their backs to them. This is startlingly similar to the Muslims who protected the Coptic Christians from persecution during the Christmas mass about a month ago.

I am a strong advocate of anti-theism. I do not see religion as being a force for good in the world and I don’t see these acts of kindness being religion-based in any way. These acts are being performed by people who are able to look beyond their religion and embrace a common human goal for peace and co-existence. I only wish that acts such as these were the norm rather than the notable exception.

The Egyptian army has since taken over control of the protection of the museums, and historians, archaeologists and Egyptologists are weighing in on the damage done to their unimaginably precious history.

The rape of Egyptian women and the damage of priceless Egyptian artifacts speaks of the respect divide across humanity. Some people seem inclined towards respecting other people’s bodies and the history of a country, whilst others use moments of political chaos to cause further upheaval for some unknown, sordid personal gain. This is both interesting and devastating. I like to see that not all of mankind falls into the latter category though.

Links:

Muslims return favour by joining hands with Christian protesters for Mass in Tahrir square chanting “we are one.”

Thank god the looters didn’t know what they were doing.”

Egypt’s looted treasures recovered

Young Egyptians protect ancient heritage

Ancient treasures looted and destroyed in Egypt’s chaos

Pharaohs’ mummies burnt. Unrest threatens priceless legacy.

Images of Egyptian Museum damage

3 thoughts on “Ancient Respect in Egypt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s