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October 21, 2010

Security at Egypt’s Mahmoud Khalil Museum

Posted at 6:30 pm in Similar cases

I have long argued that the argument about museums outside the west being unable to look after artefacts securely is entirely disingenuous. Unfortunately institutions such as Cairo’s Mahmoud Khalil Museum make it a lot harder to persuade people that this is the case though, as they perpetuate the stereotype of mismanaged underfunded institutions where thieves can just walk in & help themselves to valuable works of art.

Current Intelligence

Cairo’s Thomas Crowne Affair

Vincent van Gogh’s 1887 painting Poppy Flowers (Vase with Flowers) was stolen from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in the Giza area of Cairo on Saturday. The roughly one-foot-square work, valued at $50 million, was cut from its frame after robbers borrowed a near-by sofa and used it as a makeshift ladder; not exactly the work of professionals. Shortly after news of the theft broke, Egypt’s culture minister, Farouk Hosni, issued a statement claiming that an Italian couple seen suspiciously“visiting a toilet” and then “rapidly leaving the premises” had been detained in connection with the crime. Alas, it turns out that the tale of international intrigue proved to be untrue, and Hosni retracted the statement a few hours later.

As the narrative of the theft continues to unfold it’s beginning to sound more and more like the plot to The Thomas Crowne Affair (the Steve McQueen/Faye Dunaway version, of course). Not long after accusing the Italian tourists, the deputy culture minister, Muhsin Sha’lan, and four of the museum’s security guards were detained on suspicion of neglect and delinquency. Professional delinquency might be an understatement: the museum had an abysmal attendance of only ten people that day, none of the museum’s alarms were working, and only seven of the 43 surveillance cameras were functioning at the time of the robbery.
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