Thieves taking advantage of Egyptian turmoil to steal treasures
CAIRO — Taking advantage of Egypt’s political upheaval, thieves have gone on a treasure hunt with a spree of illegal digging, preying on the country’s ancient pharaonic heritage.
Illegal digs near ancient temples and in isolated desert sites have swelled a staggering 100-fold over the past 16 months since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year regime and security fell apart in many areas as police simply stopped doing their jobs.
The pillaging comes on top of a wave of break-ins last year at archaeological storehouses — and even at Cairo’s famed Egyptian Museum, the country’s biggest repository of pharaonic artifacts.
Horrified archaeologists and antiquities authorities are scrambling to prevent smuggling, keeping a watch on European and American auction houses in case stolen artifacts show up there.
“Criminals became so bold they are digging in landmark areas,” including near the Great Pyramids in Giza, other pyramids and the grand temples of the city of Luxor, said Maj.-Gen. Abdel-Rahim Hassan, commander of the Tourism and Antiquities Police Department.
“It is no longer a crime motivated by poverty; it’s naked greed, and it involves educated people,” he said.