Robbing Your Mamma To Pay Your Poppa

February 1, 2011  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

As a revolution tries to unfold in Egypt, many Americans who have watched the Antiques Roadshow know why soldiers and citizens alike were seen guarding the Egyptian Museum. It’s because they know that old stuff can be valuable! It’s not just a bunch of crusty statues, drawings, coffins, jars, paintings and old jewelry in there, hell no, some of it is made of real GOLD! And right now gold is worth $1,337.40 an ounce!

Just one mask alone weighs 24.5 pounds. Do you know how much gold that is? Let’s do the math: there’s 16 ounces in a pound for a total of 392 ounces. OMG that means King Tut’s mask is worth $524, 260.00! Maybe more at auction. They also have a big collection of ancient silver and gold coins which are probably worth a lot too. No wonder people are guarding the place. And no wonder people have been robbing Egyptian graves for thousands of years. From what I hear you can’t even plant a garden in your back yard in Egypt without finding some ancient bead or rare artifact. It’s so strange to us here because who the hell would bury all that gold unless you stole it?

But as the internet traffic and cell phones there were cut off and hundreds of thousands of protesters brought Cairo to a stand still this week, it appears that some bad people were breaking into the museum to steal whatever they could get their little paws on. Unfortunately for them it seems that groups of ‘youths’ as the media is calling them, showed up and caught them red-handed. Then the ‘youths’ proceeded to kick their ass. Finally some soldiers showed up and took the bad guys into custody. Ironically in this country of eighty million people the military have pledged not to attack the protesters, which is big news in this part of the world.

But today it has come out that some funny business was going on at the Museum. To a country weary of corrupt cops demanding bribes, blackmailing small business owners, arresting political dissidents and serving as the most public face of the unelected government, it came as no surprise when, according to Human Rights Watch director Peter Bouckaert, several of the captured and wounded looters had police identification cards on them when they were caught.

Also, according to rawstory.com:

“Police identification cards were also found on looters all around Cairo and Egypt. In fact Bouckaert implied that police forces may have been responsible for the escape/release of thousands of prisoners, describing it as “unexplainable.”

“The locals say the only people with weapons are police who’ve taken off their uniforms and are responsible for most of the looting and crime,” Human Rights Watch deputy director for Middle East and North Africa Division Joe Stork wrote from Suez Sunday.

“As up to a million Egyptians marched Tuesday, ordinary citizens set up checkpoints to keep undercover police from bringing in weapons and perpetrating violence.”

So basically the protesters have been trying to conduct a massive and non-violent demonstration and are working hard to maintain it. Here in the US we tend to think highly of our volunteer police and military because the vast majority of them help to keep our cities safe and they catch the bad guys. In Egypt though, the police are the bad guys and public sentiment is just the opposite. The poorly paid cops (they make about $41 a month) are notorious for blackmail, graft, bribery ad all manner of thuggishness. Of course this isn’t a very sexy news item for American media, who have their own bias against protesters in general. Nor is the Vice Minister of Culture,  Zawi Hawass, interested in the blame game since his job being responsible for the safekeeping of all Egyptian artifacts is hard enough. The sad truth is that it is commonplace everywhere for cops to wear plain clothes, infiltrate protest marches, throw a few bricks at windows, light some fires and then blame (then jail) the protesters. They did it during the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley. They did it to smear reputations in the Civil Rights Movement and used it with the Black Panthers too. Hell they do it all the time here in the US. It’s a reliable counterintelligence tactic because the public never believes the authorities would do such a thing. But I digress. In this instance the idea is for the Egyptian and world media to be fooled into believing the protesters are looting their own culture by stealing the antiquities. In turn that would help to justify crushing the uprising. Hosni Mubarak would have the moral high ground, as they say. After all what kind of evil, degenerate, hippie protesters would stoop to destroying the relics of their own country?

So it is instructive to watch how the safety of ancient Egyptian art becomes a political football in the struggle for power. The art, after all, represents the culture of the country and is a strong symbol of Egyptian uniqueness. The fact that all those artifacts are being protected is good news but as always, the way that art is dealt with in any given country is a weather vane of the politics of the time.

6 Comments

  1. Manoel O. Audaz Says:

    interesting. in the u.s. i think we can also look at the privatization of police forces… and the military as extremely dangerous. see blackwater and all that. not to mention the fact that a corporate security officer doesn’t have to abide by the rights alotted to the “person of interest” as an actual police officer. in other words a private security force can manhandle you cause the rights of public citizens don’t apply.

    i do think that the interesting thing with regards to media coverage of “protesters” has changed in that the right-wing has appropriated the protest tactics of 60′s radicalism. i mean i have definately encountered more “god hates fags” signs than “give peace a chance” ones driving down the road… not to mention the anti-healthcare people storming the debates a couple years back.

    yet i do remember my old boss, an aged hippie, recounting with sadness how some unwily protesters were trashing the library at his college. they could’ve been cops i guess.. but maybe they weren’t? i mean consider the Sublime song about the riots when the singer pretty much says they were just trying to grab up the goods while they could and he didn’t liek the cops. i can’t say that all the protesters in egypt are totally noble and all the cops totally nefarious? i don’t know if i have access to that kind of certainty.

  2. Nadiah Fellah Says:

    The main element that separates the revolution happening in Egypt from the pre-1970s movements and groups you mention is technology! It’s much harder for cops to commit crimes in order to make protesters look bad without someone exposing them and tweeting or blogging about it (case in point: you, here). That assumption makes ‘the public’ sound much more naïve and inept than I think most people actually are. This is the reason that the first action Mubarak took was to disable cell phone and internet service, and now why he’s sent his supporters after journalists and anyone with a camera. Fortunately, citizens and news networks have found strategies to work around these obstacles.

    Additionally, while you may find that the American media is biased against protesters, the best part is that we no longer have to rely on mainstream American media to get updates on exactly what’s happening – there are thousands of people blogging and tweeting constantly, as well as alternative news sources to turn to (Al-Jazeera, Democracy Now, Truth-Out, to name a few).

    I do understand that the author of this posting is at a disadvantage as news is quickly shifting and changing by the hour (at the time this was written, the pro-Mubarak supporters had not emerged and begun to hunt down journalists and human rights workers), because it seems now that Mubarak has lost any moral high ground that he was initially able to gain. In the meantime we can only continue to watch and hope for the safety of Egypt’s citizens – and artifacts.

  3. Chris Cobb Says:

    Nadiah, while I do agree that technology is perceived as having had a democratizing effect, I find it ironic that the very digital media we have become addicted to is also responsible for the death of countless newspapers and the dramatic decline in investigative journalism. Teenaged bloggers are not a good replacement no matter how smart they are. Also I don’t think the public is naive so much as just uninformed and more often misinformed. I mean – how many Americans even know who the heads of state are in other countries besides maybe Putin and Castro? I have been in many conversations with intelligent people who routinely mix up Sweden and Switzerland, or don’t know the dates of the Civil War or when World War 1 happened. Forget about the French Revolution or who the founding fathers were. We are very knowledgeable though about Hannah Montana and what kind of diet Kim Kardashian has to be on to look hot!

  4. Chris Cobb Says:

    Manoel, I don’t deny that there are plenty of degenerate hippie idiots, without a doubt and they will do dumb things like throw brick and light fires. I think my point is more that instead of being random, individual acts of stupidity, which can happen in mobs or any large crowd (it only takes one drunk guy with a needy need to feel important), what the police do is to create the strategic appearance of chaotic behavior to frame a political narrative.

    Furthermore just check out the recent case of 15 year old Chad Holley who was beaten and kicked by 4 white Houston cops while he was lying on the ground with his hands over his head in a surrender posture.

  5. Nadiah Fellah Says:

    Chris, Thanks for your response. I think though that your use of the words ‘death’ and ‘decline’ would better be replaced with ‘change’ or ‘evolve’ — its not necessarily a bad thing that we now have options. Past generations will always cling to the devices of their era, but that doesn’t stop change from happening. Also, I don’t think I referred you to any teenagers’ blogs, but rather to legitimate new sources that are simply alternatives to CNN, MSNBC, etc. People don’t necessarily need to have a textbook knowledge of historical events or movements (I couldn’t give you exact dates if asked!) but was just saying that its not so far-fetched to think of cops or political figures as corrupt, especially in poor countries with high employment rates. Most people I know wouldn’t be as naive to believe that, even if they can’t give me a date for World War I.

  6. Chris Cobb Says:

    Nadiah,
    From what I understand the uprising was really organized and conducted not so much by an opposition party but because of bloggers. This is a cloud-sourced revolution with no apparent leader to rally around, which makes the situation both more complicated and more interesting to watch.

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