Dahshur pyramid site encroachment sparks concerns

An Egyptian policeman patrols near the Red Pyramid in Dahshur in 2001. Officials are addressing recent concerns about encroachment at the site. [Mohamed al-Sehiti/AFP]

An Egyptian policeman patrols near the Red Pyramid in Dahshur in 2001. Officials are addressing recent concerns about encroachment at the site. [Mohamed al-Sehiti/AFP]

  • COMMENT

    4

  • Print this article
  • increase decrease

The Dahshur necropolis, located less than an hour from central Cairo, is where ancient Egyptians built their first pyramids to bury their kings.

These days, a different kind of burial ground is being constructed on the archaeological site, and Egyptian authorities are concerned.

In January, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities reported that area residents had forcibly encroached on archaeological land in the Dahshur area in order to build tombs.

Antiquities Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said government authorities will soon begin to execute special removal orders against these encroachments.

The government is in the process of demarcating another area of Dahshur, far from the archaeological site, to be used as a cemetery for the people of the area, he said.

"Residents seized land by force to build tombs on, threatening the special guard with weapons," said Nasser Ramadan, director general of the Dahshur archaeological site.

The antiquities are in serious danger of being destroyed or looted, he told Al-Shorfa.

"In recent times, many antiquities thieves carried out [illegal] digs in search of pharaonic antiquities to sell on the black market," he said.

Ramadan said the problem stems from the lack of security that followed the January 25th Revolution, and that the solution lies in the return of security authorities in force to the area.

A rich history

The Dahshur archaeological site sits near the ancient valley temple of Sneferu, the first pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom, and father of the famous king Khufu, who ruled in 26th century B.C.E.

Dahshur is one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage site list since 1979. Sneferu built two of his three temples on the site -- the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid. The latter was the first "true" smooth-sided pyramid in Egypt and at the time of its completion was the tallest man-made structure in the world.

In the Middle Kingdom, the 12th Dynasty kings Amenemhat II, Senusret III and Amenemhat III built their pyramids at the site.

Jewellery belonging to Middle Kingdom princesses was found in those pyramids, and in February 2009, an expedition found coffins and wooden statues from the Ramesside period in Dahshur.

Although Dahshur holds a large number of antiquities, it has not yet been fully developed as a commercial tourist destination, as is the case with the Giza necropolis, which teems with bazaars and tourist restaurants that cater to visitors.

"The protection of Egyptian antiquities issue slid significantly on the Egyptian government's agenda in the past two years," said Niveen Aref, who writes about Egyptian antiquities.

Many institutions and archaeological sites have been ravaged by theft or fire, she told Al-Shorfa, and thousands of rare documents were destroyed when the Egyptian Scientific Institute was set on fire on December 17th, 2011.

"Egyptian law includes provisions that impose prison terms on those who encroach on archaeological sites, but they need to be activated and strictly enforced by executive authorities in conjunction with a popular campaign to urge citizens to preserve their history," Aref said.

Residents' demands

Maher Mahmoud, 30, told Al-Shorfa local residents have been asking the government to allocate land for a cemetery in Dahshur for years, but it has yet to respond.

After the revolution, some families began to build tombs on land adjacent to the site, he said.

"All we want is [for the government] to allocate a large tract of land for us to build tombs on," he said, adding, "This is a matter of great importance to us."

Hassan Mohammed, 48, who lives in a farm community adjacent to the site, said residents submitted a request to Giza province four years ago asking that land be allocated for tomb building, but the demand has not yet been answered.

"In October of last year, some began to build foundations for tombs and clashed with the guards at the archaeological sites," he said. "However, the necessary measures have yet to be taken, whether establishing security at the site or opening a dialogue with the area residents."

ADD A COMMENT (COMMENT POLICY) * DENOTES REQUIRED FIELD

  • READER COMMENTS

    عبد الله العمروسى

    2013-2-8

    It seems that the people of Dahshur are trying to be like the Pharaohs and went to dig their own graves Hehehehe. This really makes one’s blood boil. The infringements didn’t spare even Dahshur and the historic sites, which means that nowadays, anyone who intends to dig a grave must make it a 5-star grave and not make it anywhere. Things would have run smoothly like many things that violate the law, but I really feel that Egypt is filled with infringements and violations and not only Dahshur. What is more infuriating is that these cemeteries have been built by individuals who don’t have any sense of patriotism and don’t realize that the entire area is a public property. They were also heedless to the fact that the area is a source of income for Egypt by means of tourism. If that’s not the reason, then is it mere carelessness? May God compensate Egypt and the decent Egyptians who are yet hopeful of establishing the rule of law. Also, there is another point concerning the local residents who claim that they have talked to the government a number times so that the latter could provide them with a piece of land to be allocated as a cemetery. Truth be told, the government should also provide a piece of land to be allocated as a cemetery so that we won’t talk about infringement anymore. This is really driving us insane. I ask the government, do you think the people will live forever? Wouldn’t there be deaths and wouldn’t there be people who would inevitably pass away? Hence, we must think logically. Also, it is not possible to bury everyone who dies in his hometown. Let us assume someone who is originally from Aswan dies in Dahshur, should we transport the corpse to Aswan? That is not right and the people living in Dahshur are also not doing the right thing, so it seems that the whole thing is a mess. The government must have the right foundations so that people may like doing the right thing, and actually do it, but things now seem like a cat and mouse game between the government and the people, and this will only produce slums and destruction.

  • طارق فواز

    2013-2-8

    Before thinking about a solution to the unemployment problem, we have to find a solution to it through focusing on the labor intensive projects and the different specializations, skills and experiences collectively, not individually. A simple look will reveal that those two conditions are only available in the construction sector, which includes the construction workers, accountants, administrative staff, engineers, etc. and who represent the majority of the Egyptians. The ancient Egyptian civilization built the pyramids, which also provided a solution to the unemployment problems and they stimulated the minds of the Egyptians who made these creative buildings and solved a problem by establishing a civilization.

  • سمير وليد

    2013-2-8

    I want to know how the Egyptian authorities fear of such things. Was it necessary for the Egyptian citizens in Dahshour to violate the instructions and build in the lands, which contains monuments? Where are the officials who are afraid for Egypt? Where have you been before that? You should find the suitable solution so that the people find graveyards. You must have noticed that this is a problem and you must have found the suitable solution for it. I understood that the people in Dahshour tried to comply with the regulations, but they could not. What was required from them? If the government has any other solution, it must have done it before this happened. This neglect must stop.

  • تيسير المنفلوطى

    2013-2-6

    Apparently, the people in Egypt are convinced that they could achieve their demands only by using weapons. They no longer believe in the importance of the rule of law. This is crystal clear. The legislators themselves failed to impose the implementation of their own laws. This means that laws have become mere illusions as if they were able to do without those laws. It seems that we could bring life back to normal only through arms. During the rule of the former regime the system depended on corruption and bribery. Today, it depends on the force of weapons. We are fully aware that Dahshur is the mainly an archaeological area. However, there is little interest in maintaining it. Indeed, we really want this region to evolve. We are calling on the authorities to find an adequate solution for this region, which could help in the development of Egypt as a whole. Indeed, the archeological sites in Dahshur are likely to attract tourists because they are not less important than the pyramids of Giza. For this reason, the authorities are expected to develop them to boost tourism. We know quite well that the citizens there are establishing cemeteries in archeological sites. Those people need a plot were they could bury the dead. Of course, none of the officials seems to be keen to respond to the complaints. For this reason, the inhabitants were obliged to use force to steal a piece of land and build the tombs. Ironically, the officials were upset upon the usurpation of some archeological areas. They are not happy with that. This is really ridiculous! They ought to respond to the people’s demands first. In so doing, we could prevent such violations. In fact, such offenses would disappear altogether as long as the authorities respond to all the demands of the people. If ever they get involved in infringements, the authorities would be allowed to try them and send them to prison by law. I call on the residents of Dahshur to preserve the archaeological sites. They ought to act as guards. The officials are now aware of your demands. They will definitely respond to you.