|Khonsu Temple in Luxor is located on the west bank. Supreme|
Council of Antiquities staff said it is ok to work on that side of the Nile
for today. Photo by Olaf Tausch, courtesy wikimedia.
This morning Dr. Gerry Scott, director of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), gave a telephone interview from Cairo itself.
He gave what information he had on how the crisis in Egypt is affecting its antiquities. ARCE supports nearly two dozen active projects in Egypt. Its mission focuses on conserving Egypt’s cultural heritage and has attracted numerous grants – including funding from USAID.
Over the past few days Egypt has been become embroiled in protests and unrest. The news has been changing by the hour and last night President Hosni Mubarak, a man who has led Egypt for nearly 30 years, ordered his cabinet to resign. The government has cut off internet access and cell phone service has been curtailed.
Dr. Scott said that for now ARCE intends to keeps its staff in the country. “At the moment, yes, we will stay and wait (and see) how things develop in terms of whether we can function or not,” he said.
Scott has been stuck in his apartment over the Egyptian weekend (Friday and Saturday) and has had only limited communication through a landline. He started the interview by praising the protesters who held hands to protect the Egyptian Museum.
“Everybody in the Egyptological community, I think, has been very heartened by the fact that the demonstrators sort of linked hands last night when they thought that the Egyptian Museum was in danger.”
They “made it clear that the Egyptian Museum was a place where Egypt’s treasures were and it belonged to the nation.”
The lack of communications, and the fact that the unrest has left him stuck in his apartment, has limited Dr. Scott’s ability to get a sense of how this crisis is affecting Egypt’s antiquities.
The fact that it’s the weekend means that the Supreme Council of Antiquities staff, in Cairo, is off work.
As far as he knows Zahi Hawass is still in charge of the council and he was not forced to resign even though he is a vice-minister. “What I have heard at this point is that it’s the cabinet that has resigned, I haven’t heard about people who are lower in office,” said Scott.
Furthermore the council still appears to be operational, at least on some level.
Scott said that he has been in contact with his staff in Luxor, where ARCE has several conservation and research projects that are ongoing. In that ancient city the council staff “advised not to work at the east bank at the site today (while) US and international teams were allowed to go out to their sites on the west bank.”
However he was quick to add that it’s still the weekend and we won’t know the full status of the council until the Egyptian work week begins tomorrow (Sunday).
He also cautioned that this is a fluid situation and communication needs to be established with other ARCE projects.
“There are US ARCE sponsored expeditions in the field and we will be in touch with them in the coming days as the situation unfolds. I don’t know that any of us at this point really have a sense of quite how things are going to happen.”