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Egyptian protesters have protected the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo during the crisis, with help later from the army.

Egypt's military secures famed antiquities museum

One man pleaded with people outside the museum's gates on Tahrir Square not to loot the building, shouting at the crowd: "We are not like Baghdad." After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, thieves carted off thousands of artifacts from the National Museum in Baghdad — only a fraction of which have been recovered.

Suddenly other young men — some armed with truncheons taken from the police — formed a human chain outside the main entrance in an attempt to protect the collection inside.

"I'm standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure," said one of the men, Farid Saad, a 40-year-old engineer.

Another man, 26-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim, said it was important to guard the museum because it "has 5,000 years of our history. If they steal it, we'll never find it again."

Finally, four armored vehicles took up posts outside the massive coral-colored building in downtown Cairo. Soldiers surrounded the building and moved inside to protect mummies, monumental stone statues, ornate royal jewelry and other pharaonic artifacts.

The museum is right next to the ruling party headquarters that was burned.  This museum is irreplaceable, with by far the greatest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the world, including the mummies of several pharaohs and most of the objects from King Tutankhamun's tomb.

It is a good sign that many of the protesters took action to protect the collection of Egypt's great history and heritage.  It also is a good sign that the protesters and the army appeared to cooperate in this.  Hopefully this is a sign that a successor to the Mubarak regime will be more broadly based than fundamentalist Islam.

Update: I should have added this link last night.  The official museum website is not available, probably because of the Internet shutdown in Egypt, so here is the Wikipedia article on the museum.

Update 2: Apparently there was some vandalism at the museum since the unrest began.

EGYPT: Antiquities damaged by vandals; collapse of neighboring building feared

The ruling National Democratic Party headquarters next door was torched by demonstrators a day earlier and was at risk of toppling on the museum, the Al Arabiya news network reported.

The museum is in the heart of the city center that has been the scene of violent clashes between police and demonstrators demanding an end to the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak. Vandals tore the heads off of two mummies inside the museum before the protective measures were taken, Hawass said.

Things are still very dangerous.

I have not heard anything about the southern part of the Nile Valley, which has many important ancient monuments.  The news media probably is not present in that area, which does not have any large cities.

Update 3: Here is a link to some pictures of damage at the museum.  It looks worse than reported, but not near as bad as what happened at Baghdad.

Images of Egyptian Museum Damage

Update 4: There is a bit more information available about the situation at the museum and for the ancient monuments in the rest of the country.

Egypt moves to secure antiquities from looters

Would-be looters broke into Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum, ripping the heads off two mummies and damaging about 10 small artifacts before being caught and detained by army soldiers, Egypt's antiquities chief said Saturday.

The military closed the pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo to tourists, and armored personnel carriers could be seen outside the famed archaeological site.

Archaeologist Kent Weeks, who is in the southern temple town of Luxor, said that rumors that attacks were planned against monuments prompted authorities to erect barriers and guard Karnak Temple while tanks were positioned around Luxor's museum.

Originally posted to Thutmose V on Fri Jan 28, 2011 at 09:35 PM PST.

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