Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Protests Erupt in Egypt: what does that mean for the country's rich archaeological heritage?

For the second time in just over two years protestors fill the streets of Egypt's biggest cities and the country is prime for another revolution.

Two and a half years ago, amidst the "Arab Spring", the people of Egypt cried for the corrupt Honsi Mubarak to step down.  During the turmoil in Egypt those two years ago, archaeological excavations came to an end, archaeologists and students fled, and the archaeological community feared that the people would loot the Cairo Museum as they did to the Iraqi Museum during the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and tourists turned away.

Since those days, the people democratically elected Mohammed Mursi (Morsi or Morsy depending on spelling), and the world hoped that Egypt would be on a stable and bright path.  There was also the hope to rebuild its large tourism economy.  Unfortunately, those ideals did not yet materialize.

Now, a year after his inauguration, protestors demand that Morsi step down.  The people consider him and the Muslim Brotherhood to be corrupt, they blame him for their weakened economy, and they consider his government another form of fascism or a dictatorship. 

Among the complaints are that Morsi has disregarded the needs of the people for a fundamental Islamic agenda as head of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Egyptian army gave Morsi until tonight (July 2nd, 2013) to step down, and President Obama urged Morsi to hold an early election.

Besides Egypt having a deep history, the US is deeply invested in Egypt to the tune of more than 1.5 Billion a year!

So why worry about archaeology at this time?  Think of it as a formula or a circle:

Archaeology/History = important sites and antiquity = allure to tourists=tourism market = money 

You need money to - protect sites - to fund research- to create museums- to lure tourists - to bring more money!

Yes, I did just bring everything down to money.  We need money to fund archeological research and to protect past research and preserve sites, including museums.  Egypt does not have money, hence the protests.  Ironically, those same protests continue to damage the economy because tourists do not want to visit a country tearing itself apart and where protestors are dying daily, and the army is seizing areas (the Egyptian army seized Suez today).

This post only serves as an introduction of sorts, and I will probably have another page on this blog, because the protests and the civil wars throughout the Arab world have destroyed rich archaeological history, which is also important because many of these sites act as symbols for nationalism (why I recommend reading Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities).

I will provide updates on the threat to archaeological sites in Egypt as much as I can.

Updates as of July 3rd, 2013

The Egyptian military has seized control of the state television and has given Morsi until 11 am EDT to either step down or share power.

Since 2011 many of Egypt's sites have been vandalized including:
  • Dahshur in Giza
  • Tel Al-Amarna in Minya (for those of you unfamiliar with this site, this is a city built by the "Heretic" pharaoh Aka-naten who worshiped the sun-disk and forgone the other gods.
The destruction of these sites comes from a lack of security, arms and funding, and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) raised concerns over some of these World Heritage Sites.

Update 7/3/2013 12:36 EDT
Apparently now a military coup is underway! The 11 EDT deadline came and went with Morsi refusing to step down.

There are fears a military coup is under way against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, adviser says. from CNN

Update 7/3/2013 2:56 EDT
We are awaiting a statement from a Military Spokesman that Morsi (Morsy on some sites) is no longer the President of Egypt.  According to CNN the people will not be happy.  Although the people do not like Morsi, they lived under relative military rule for decades, and they do not want to return to pre-Revolution status.

Worries are that along with civilian unrest sites and the Cairo Museum will be looted.  I am not sure people will loot to sell here because people are weary about buying antiquities from Egypt because of previous laws in place to protect Egyptian antiquities (some good news for archaeology?)

While I write this I am listening to the statement from Egypt about Morsi.

 Update 7/3/2013 5:15 EDT
Senior administration in the U.S. issued a mandatory evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.  This is mostly due to the anti-US sentiment because the U.S. originally backed Morsi, and then there is the question of general safety in Egypt.

This, along with the fact that the U.S. has some legal rules on military coups (the U.S. cuts funding during a military coup), the U.S. might cut funding to Egypt and then there is other U.S. interests and the worry of people wanting to visit Egypt. Of course with little funding, the economy will take a larger hit, affect the protection of archaeological sites.

At this time the White House has not issued a statement on what is going on in Egypt.