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Cairo museum falls under spotlight after botched Tutankhamun beard job

Egypt’s ability to care for its priceless artifacts has come under question

Shounaz Meky

Published: Updated:

Egypt’s ability to care for its priceless artifacts has come under question after a botched repair to Tutankhamun’s mask earlier this week.

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities holds the largest collection of artifacts - more than 120,000 - belonging to one of the earliest and longest civilizations in history.

The museum - a red, neoclassical building - is located in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, and is one of the first stops for holidaymakers traveling to Egypt.

During the 2011 revolution, some artifacts were stolen during a break-in on Jan. 28. Others were damaged when display cases were broken.

Now, one of the museum’s greatest treasures, the mask of King Tutankhamun, has undergone a controversial repair job that has caught international attention.

Tutankhamun’s beard was reportedly hit when the lighting in the display case was being repaired during a restoration process in 2014. The beard was hastily glued back.

The Ministry of Antiquities said Saturday it was investigating the incident, which sparked worldwide concern over Egypt’s ability to preserve its own treasures.

Observers say not much has been done to protect the museum, which is considered downtown Cairo’s star attraction.

However, Yousef Khalifa, chairman of the Egyptian antiquities sector, told Al Arabiya News that attempts to improve and revive the landmark has topped the ministry’s list of priorities.

“Egyptian antiquities are part of a heritage belonging to all mankind, but no one is keener than Egyptians to protect them,” he said.

The artifacts undergo periodic maintenance, and efforts to protect the museum’s riches are performed under high levels of security, Khalifa added. “The mistake in repairing Tutankhamun’s mask can be reversed.”

“Most of the stolen artifacts” were repatriated, Khalifa said. “Most of the repatriated objects that were looted during the 2011 uprising and subsequent events were displayed in an exhibition lately in a bid to attract tourists.”

Tourism revenues in December from visiting archeological sites in Egypt, including the Cairo museum and the pyramids, reached 22 million Egyptian pounds ($2.9 million), he added.