CAIRO: Organized crime and extremists smuggled between $3 to $5 billion worth of antiquities from Egypt since the January 25 Revolution in 2011, chairman of the U.S.-based Antiquities Coalition Deborah Lehr told Al-Yawm channel Monday.
The coalition commissioned a leading satellite imagery analyst of two archeological sites: Greater Cairo’s Saqqara and Abusir. From February to May, the sites went to from clean to looking like “Swiss cheese,” Lehr said, citing illegal digging in search for monuments.
Looting in Egypt is still ongoing, she said, adding that although the new government has increased security at the sites and has been going after looters, there is still a long way to go before restoring security for archaeological sites.
The Antiquities Coalition signed the first public-private partnership agreement with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities in March to protect its antiquities.
Lehr told Al-Yawm he encouraged Egyptian businessmen to finance efforts to protect Egyptian heritage, and called on the Egyptian media to raise awareness on Egypt’s antiquities because they are “the country’s future economically and culturally.”
“Local people with shovels do not benefit from the big figures for which the antiquities are sold at auction houses; it is middle men who tend to be members of organized crime or terrorist organizations,” Lehr said.
Several Egyptian museums were looted in the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution, and also after the massive protests leading up to the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.
“As Secretary of State John Kerry is flying around the world and trying to build up support to put a coalition together against ISIS, heritage should be part of that debate because it is an economic, security and also a cultural issue,” she added.
Several ancient Egyptian artifacts have been put up for sale in auction houses worldwide, as well as on websites such as eBay, which has taken down over 200 Egyptian antiquities.