As a person who loves to visit museums and has made a career out of producing documentary television about museums, I am fascinated by the emerging story of what happened at the renowned Egyptian Museum, just off Tahrir Square, the focal point of the current revolutionary activity in Cairo.
The museum is the home of irreplaceable collections of Egyptian cultural and artistic history going back more than 3,000 years. Included in the collections are thousands of Egyptian cultural treasures including the death mask of King Tut.
Mask of King Tut
The news reporting about the events at the museum has been as frantic and raw as the reporting from the Square. It has now been confirmed, for example, that no valuable mummies were damaged, as was originally reported.
However, the facts of the story that are now emerging are simply extraordinary.
On January 28th, in the midst of all kinds of mayhem in the streets, a group of nine looters were able to break into the museum. Some of the Egyptian citizens, protesting against the Mubarak regime, witnessed the looting at the museum and, somehow, organized a group of fellow-protestors into forming a human chain surrounding the museum building and blocking both entrance to and exit from the museum.
The museum is a pretty large building. It must have taken a significant number of people to form a human chain around it. But, incredibly, they did it and they must have done it very quickly.
Not only that, they stayed in their positions and actually captured the looters when they tried to escape and held them until the Army arrived and took over security for the museum. Apparently, all the items the looters were attempting to steal were recovered by the citizens guarding the museum and were returned to the museum.
Think about it. Instinctively and without advance planning, average citizens and members of the armed forces joined together to protect the security of the national museum.
Clearly, many Egyptians, both those who oppose Mubarak and those who are members of the Army, recognize the tremendous cultural importance of the objects housed in their national museum.
Some of them were actually willing to risk their lives to protect their museum. I find that to be amazing.
Our own U.S. museums contain objects of historical, artistic and scientific value to our American culture and experiences.. In a sense, our museums contain the cultural “DNA” of our national identity.
If your neighborhood museum was being threatened in some way, would you join hands with your fellow citizens and form a human fence around it, perhaps risking your personal safety, in order to protect your museum?
-Marc Doyle, Executive Producer, GREAT MUSEUMS TELEVISION