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The other Islamist threat: Looting history

| Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A custodian climbs down the passageway of the Red Pyramid which tourists can enter, though it is visited by significantly fewer tourists than the Great Pyramids on the nearby Giza plateau. The Dahshour area was a closed military zone until 1996, when the military camp was cordoned off from the more than two-mile field of ancient pyramids. Built by Pharaoh Snefru, the Red Pyramid is the second-largest pyramid and gets its name from the reddish limestone used to build it. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A broken bench sits in front of the Bent Pyramid, a site that is not frequented by many tourists. The area around the pyramids of Dahshour was a closed military zone until 1996, when the military camp was cordoned off from the more than two-mile field of ancient pyramids. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A young man rides a bicycle through the lush palms of Dahshour near fields that are farmed along a canal tributary of the Nile river. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

There's more at stake in post-Mubarak Egypt than matters exclusively of the moment or Egyptian: Mankind's ancient cultural heritage is being destructively looted amid lawlessness under the Islamist regime of President Mohamed Morsy.

Forbidden by Islam, grave-robbing nevertheless has exploded since Egypt's 2011 revolution. The Great Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza remain intact, despite one Salafi radical's call last November for their destruction — a la the Taliban's 2001 dynamiting of ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan. But a Trib examination found human bones, mummified body parts, wooden coffins and broken limestone sarcophagi scattered about three other Egyptian antiquities sites ravaged by looting.

Some archaeologists privately say Mr. Morsy's government has ignored the looting; those who speak up find themselves targets of threats. Though more Egyptian police and soldiers lately have been protecting some sites, antiquities' legitimate economic value for tourism seems lost on the regime.

Some Egyptians view their ancient ancestors as pagans unworthy of undisturbed graves. Some impoverished villagers loot to survive economically. Armed criminal gangs play a major role, as does black-market demand. Sites never properly studied or catalogued are being stripped of precious, irreplaceable artifacts.

This irreparable damage, squandering and forever despoiling humanity's shared cultural legacy, is a painful reminder of just how far the consequences of today's turmoil can extend.

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