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Regional strife destroying historical Arab treasures

Constant wars and instability are wreaking havoc on ancient relics across the Arab world, from Syria and Iraq to Egypt and North Africa.
Police officers and people gather in front of the damaged Museum of Islamic Art building, after a bomb blast occurred at the nearby Cairo Security Directorate, which includes police and state security, in downtown Cairo, January 24, 2014. A suicide bomber in a car blew himself up in the parking lot of a top security compound in central Cairo on Friday, killing at least four people in one of the most high-profile attacks on the state in months, security sources said. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  (EGYPT - Tags

Ninety-nine years after opening its doors in 1903, the current structure of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo shut its doors. Eight years later, after a painstaking restoration costing $14.4 million, it reopened to the public. The museum itself housed 4,000 items from a collection of over 100,000, encompassing the Umayyad, Abbasid, Tulunid, Fatimid, Ayubid, Mamluk and Ottoman periods of Egypt, according to Al-Ahram. On the morning of Jan. 24, a car bomb exploded outside the museum, destroying priceless treasures of the largest Islamic museum in the world in an attempt to target a state security bureau. Egypt’s minister of antiquities declared that the museum had been “completely destroyed.”

In August 2013, looters stole or damaged 1,060 of 1,089 objects housed at Egypt’s Mallawi Museum in Minia, killing a security guard. The following month 400 artifacts were recovered. The Arab Spring hasn’t always been bad for the heritage of Egypt and the Arab world. During the 2011 Egyptian uprising, looters broke into the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square that houses over 120,000 artifacts. Incredibly, they were only able to steal 18 objects thanks to vigilant Egyptian citizens. I recall one of the most heartening moments I experienced during my coverage of the Jan. 25 uprising was when reports emerged that Egyptians were forming a human chain to protect the Egyptian Museum from looting. (A tweet I sent out then was retweeted over 1,500 times.)

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