Egypt’s Ancient Heritage In Peril As Turmoil Continues

Egypt
Mallawi Museum One of the stolen artifacts.

The political instability in Egypt is taking a heavy toll on the country’s ancient heritage.

Thieves have taken advantage of the chaotic situation to steal artifacts to sell on the illegal antiquities market, while vandals have been satisfied with simply destroying them.

Both groups recently struck at a museum in Mallawi, about 190 miles south of Cairo. When supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi held a protest in the museum’s garden, thieves took advantage of the police being distracted to break in and steal more than a thousand artifacts. When vandals saw the museum was open and unguarded, they rushed in and smashed up the place.

National Geographic has published some sobering pictures of the destruction. The museum has put up a Facebook page detailing what has been stolen in the hope that it will make it harder for the thieves to sell the artifacts.

Looting has been reported at numerous museums and archaeological sites around the country. Instability and lack of income from tourism also means many archaeological sites are suffering from neglect. There may be a political motivation for some of the thefts. Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram quotes Mokhtar Al-Kasabani, professor of Islamic Archaeology at Cairo University, as saying the thefts are to raise money for the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya. The Muslim Brotherhood is Morsi’s party, and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya (Islamic Group) was allied with him when he was in power.

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya claimed responsibility for a 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor that killed 62 people, mostly tourists. So it appears fundamentalists are destroying Egypt’s past in order to raise money to endanger its future.

Weiner Sexts Lead To Airline Fare Sale

David Boyle via Flickr

Disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner might be in hot water with his wife after his most recent sexting fiasco, but some travelers heading to Mexico this fall could actually benefit from his latest social-media debacle.

Spirit Airlines took advantage of the New York City mayoral candidate’s rising scandal with “The Weiner Rises Again” special on its website. Shortly after Weiner’s press conference, a mustachioed hot dog named Carlos Danger appeared on the airline’s website, offering $24 off flights to Cancun or Los Cabos.

This isn’t the first time Spirit has won some free publicity on the back of a Weiner bone-headed blunder. In 2011, the airline touted their fares as “too hard to resist” after news of his original sexting scandal broke. Spirit has also taken advantage of scandals involving Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen, Arnold Schwarzenneger and former Chicago mayor Rod Blagojevich.

If you want to take advantage of Spirit’s latest fare sale, flights must be booked by the end of the day, Friday, July 26. If you’re hoping to get a cheap flight to Minnesota, hope someone discovers nude selfies of Garrison Keillor soon.

Exhibition At Berlin Wall Shows World’s Fortified Borders

Berlin Wall
Wikimedia Commons

The Berlin Wall has been a symbol of oppression and tyranny ever since it went up. When it fell in 1989, the world rejoiced and many hoped we would now live in a world without barriers.

As a new exhibition at a remaining part of the wall shows, however, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

“Wall on Wall” is a photographic exhibition by German photographer Kai Wiedenhoefer. He has traveled the world taking photographs of barriers between people and nations and his exhibition features giant posters of his images plastered on the Berlin Wall. Large-format photos of walls between North and South Korea, the U.S. and Mexico, and Israel and Palestine cover a long stretch of the Berlin Wall on the flip side of the popular East Side Gallery.

The photos also show walls within countries that divide populations, such as those in Belfast and Baghdad. On my recent trip to Iraq I saw many of these walls, designed to separate Shia and Sunni neighborhoods in an attempt to reduce sectarian violence. Like the Berlin Wall, they’ve become a blank canvas for Iraqi graffiti artists.

“Wall on Wall” runs until September 13.

Cyrus Cylinder, ‘The First Bill Of Rights,’ Tours US

Cyrus Cylinder
The famous Cyrus Cylinder, a baked clay tablet from the 6th century B.C. that’s often called the “first bill of rights,” has made its U.S. debut at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Cyrus Cylinder was deposited in the foundations of a building in Babylon during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus the Great. It commemorates his conquest of Babylon and announces religious freedom for the people displaced by the Babylonian king Nabonidus. Among them were the Jews, who had been in captivity in Babylon. Many Jews soon returned to Jerusalem and built the Second Temple.

While Cyrus’ announcement and inscription isn’t unique for that time, the cylinder became instantly famous upon its discovery in 1879 because of its connection to events that are mentioned in the Bible. Ever since, Cyrus has been considered the model of a just king ruling over a diverse empire.

It’s the centerpiece of a new exhibition titled “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning,” which examines the religious, cultural and linguistic traditions of the vast and powerful Achaemenid Empire (539–331 B.C.) founded by Cyrus the Great.

The exhibition runs until April 28. After the Smithsonian, the Cyrus Cylinder will tour the U.S., stopping at Houston, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can see the full details of the schedule here.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Islamists Renew Attack On Timbuktu’s Heritage

Timbuktu
The ancient treasures of Timbuktu have come under renewed attack by Islamists, the BBC reports.

The Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) has vowed to destroy all the city’s medieval shrines of Muslim saints, which they say are contrary to Islam. The city in northern Mali has been under the control of a coalition of Tuareg and Islamist rebels since April. They declared the independent state of Azawad and soon fought among themselves, with the Islamists gaining the upper hand and imposing harsh Sharia law.

Ansar Dine came under international condemnation when it destroyed some of the shrines earlier this year. Reports indicate they destroyed four more on Sunday. It is not yet clear what Ansar Dine will do with the hundreds of thousands of early manuscripts preserved in Timbuktu.

Timbuktu was a center of trade and learning from the 12th to the 17th centuries and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its many early buildings. It has long been a popular destination for adventure travelers but is far too dangerous to go to now. The BBC reports that Ansar Dine recently cut the hands off of two people they claim were criminals. It’s unclear what their crime was. Perhaps they didn’t want to see their Islamic heritage destroyed.

The BBC has an excellent slideshow of Timbuktu’s endangered treasures here.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]