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Pyramid thieves arrested
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 09 - 02 - 2016

Three men were arrested by police on Saturday for breaking off and selling pieces of one of the Giza Pyramids after a video showing bidding for the artefacts went viral online.
Dot Masr, a private Egyptian media Website, went undercover and secretly filmed the process of breaking off and selling pieces of the Pyramid.
The video received more than 23,000 shares on Facebook and showed the undercover reporter buying a piece of the Pyramid from one of the men who has been arrested. “Granite or alabaster, which do you want,” asks one of the illegal vendors in the video. “Here is a piece from the Pyramid itself,” says the unidentified man later in the video while holding a piece of stone. The man was also filmed saying that prices for foreigners ranged from 100 to 500 euros per piece.
The video resulted in considerable anger towards the government, with some even calling for the minister of antiquities to be sacked.
In a statement from the Ministry of Interior, police said that the three suspects had confessed to “breaking off” and “selling bits” of the Pyramids for LE250 a piece. The men were detained for four days by the Al-Haram prosecution office on charges of damaging antiquities, trading antiquities and fraud.
According to the statement, the arrests were made following a complaint by the director of the Giza Pyramids archaeological area.
Head of the ancient Egyptian antiquities department at the Ministry of Culture Mahmoud Afifi told the Weekly that he had filed a report after seeing the video circulating on social media showing the sale of pieces of stone taken from the Pyramids.
“I filed a report against the journalist who had filmed the video and all those who had taken part in buying the stones from the vendors without previously notifying the authorities,” Afifi said, adding that the stone pieces sold had been pieces that had fallen on the ground and had not been broken off from the Pyramids.
“High security measures are in place at the Pyramids, and no one would dare break off parts of them,” Afifi said, describing the video-taping incident as “a form of deception”.
If the Website that had published the video had required the government's assistance, it should have informed the general prosecution authorities from the beginning instead of simply posting it, he said.
Hussein Bassir, director of the Giza Plateau, told the Weekly that the incident had happened in a remote area south of the Menkawre Pyramid and off the regular tourist track. Tourists usually visit the areas around the Khufu and Khafre Pyramids and the Sphinx, he said.
Security personnel were always available on the Plateau, but they could not be everywhere all the time, he said. He added that the blocks shown in the video were authentic since they had fallen off the Pyramids and had not been broken off by the thieves.
“The journalists shown in the video may face charges of owning or attempting to trade stolen antiquities,” Bassir said, adding that their good will in reporting the crime may not be enough to save them from charges.
“The pieces of the Pyramids are still in their possession,” he pointed out, saying that they should have handed over the blocks to the police immediately after receiving them. Although security measures were in place in the area, they should be tightened up and the number of security personnel increased. Raising awareness of the importance of heritage among the public was also necessary, he said.
Salah Al-Hadi, coordinator of the Archaeologists Syndicate, said that security needed to be tightened up at all archaeological sites, especially those in the open air like the Giza Plateau and Saqqara Necropolis.
Changes had occurred after the 25 January Revolution, he said, and all archaeological sites needed to be secured by qualified police in order to guarantee the complete security of the sites.
“The penalties for those breaking the antiquities laws must be stiffened,” Al-Hadi said.
Other pictures and videos taken by a German tourist who climbed to the top of the Great Pyramid also went viral online earlier this month. Andrej Ciesielski was caught by police on his descent, but later released.
The authorities have said that Ciesielski will now face a lifetime ban on entering Egypt because he broke the antiquities law which prohibits the climbing of the Pyramids as well as photographing and videotaping the Giza Plateau without the permission of the Ministry of Antiquities.
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty has sent an official notice to the German embassy in Egypt to ban the tourist from future visits to Egypt as a result of his illegally scaling the Pyramid.

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