Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cairo Museum Looting: What More Might Have Been Done

Responding to my post below, Mark comments:
The Egyptian Ministry of Culture has been reviewing its museums' security protocols since the theft of a Van Gogh from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum. Clearly, no one expected the Cairo environs to grow so hostile so fast. Even with a lock down, which it appears the Museum instituted, there was little it could do without the support of the army, which was clearly focusing its attention elsewhere. What alternative steps could have been taken to prevent this from happening since only six days ago the protests were much less volatile?
It reads as if it were a rhetorical question, but it is not true that there was little the museum could do without the support of the army. It is in the nature of political protests that they erupt quickly, so museums need to have contingency plans ready to dal with this eventuality, which calls for security protocols that have to be different from those designed to prevent clandestine theft. 

So, what alternative steps could have been taken? Here are a few, for starters: 
a) the tourism police, who apparently were the forces available to Hawass, should have been deployed in greater numbers. Of course, if the number of looters attacking the museum is in the hundreds or thousands, antiquities police cannot be expected to hold the fort, but in this case the number of looters was small and could have been fended off if all the entrypoints had been covered, it seems. 
b) citizens should have been organized in advance into a "Protectors of the Museum" or some such civil-society disaster-assistance group like the Blue Shields. My information may be wrong, but what I have heard is that Egypt has no Blue Shield, and nothing like SAFE. Given Hawass' celebrity it would have been a snap to organize such a group, which would have arrived earlier and had a stronger plan for stopping looters than the deeply moving ad hoc human chain did.
c) the museum should have had a standing arrangement with the Egyptian army to have forces deploy immediately upon request.

Additional suggestions, anyone?

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