German publication Die Zeit has an interview with former director of the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, Dr. Wafaa el-Saddik. The interview is in German and can be seen here. A digital translation (revised slightly by yours truly) of the interview itself is given below. She believes strongly that the attempted robbery was an inside job, executed by former security staff posted at the museum.
Question: Looters attacked the Egyptian Museum in Cairo on Friday evening. What exactly happened?
WS: The situation is still very unclear. There are many pieces on the floor that were thrown and destroyed, including statues of gods from the treasure of Tutankhamun. A total of 13 display cases were smashed. We now know that the looters have not stolen any Pharaonic objects. The new extension with the big souvenir shop(1), which was opened in November, was totally robbed.
Question: Who were the perpetrators?
WS: They were the guardians of the museum. Some were policemen with their jackets pulled up, so as not to be identified as policemen.(2) A second group of offenders then entered through a fire escape and the skylight. The destruction is all on the first floor, where there is also the treasure of Tutankhamun.
Question: Are there other museums in Egypt affected?
WS: The magazines of the Museum in Memphis were completely robbed on Saturday. The leaders there have called me in desperation and begged: “Save us, do something.” I first called the police, but got no response. I’ve alerted an Army General I know, but it was too late. I was on the phone with the museums in Luxor and Aswan, and there is nothing happening there. The biggest problem is the lack of protection for our museums. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo and all museums in Egypt are not insured. I have asked for many years for this to be done – without success.
Question: In Cairo, the protesters have protected the Egyptian Museum immediately with a human chain?
WS: When people in Tahrir Square noticed what was going on, they protected the entire site immediately. The perpetrators, however, were inside the building. The protesters were able to arrest some, but others have escaped. Fortunately, the military arrived quickly, as they were already deployed on Friday evening in Tahrir Square. Since then the museum is well protected.
Question: Is the danger from the fire in the adjacent building (the headquarters of Mubarak’s ruling party) averted?
WS: Yes, fortunately, the danger is over. The skyscraper had been burning for nearly two days, and with gusts of wind, it could have easily spread to the Egyptian Museum.
Question: Why would their own security guards commit such barbarism?
WS: They are paid very poorly. I wrote my fingers crooked asking for more money for these people, all for free. A security guard earns about 250 Egyptian pounds, or 35 € a month. We have about 160 security guards plus several dozen police officers who are basically conscripts in police uniforms. These policemen earn even less. Again and again, these young fathers came to me. They have nothing. One sold everything he had at home, to get medicine for his sick child. Others are hungry, even at home. But the Egyptian ministry of culture celebrates itself with expensive projects and receptions.
1 This is referring to the new shop and ticket office, which was robbed. ZH referred to it only as the ticket office.
2 Complex sentence not translated well by the computer. I have tried to break it down into blocks here so it makes better sense. However I am not familiar with the language and cannot guarantee accuracy. Refer to the original interview to see the german text.