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The other Islamist threat: Looting history

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

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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