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AUC President Lisa Anderson told The Caravan that a number of mistakes were made in dealing with the late 2010 thefts of antiquities from an underground warehouse at the Tahrir Campus.
"We know that once [the theft] was discovered, where [the antiquities] were stored was not treated like a crime scene, as it should have been," she said.
"Nor were the presumed thieves turned in to the police, as they should have been," she added.
Anderson said she feared there might have been attempts to cover up the thefts altogether.
"Apparently, some of our security staff believed that they could recover the material and then what was most worrisome, from my point of view, is that appeared to be part of a plan that would have basically covered up the whole thing. In other words, cover up the theft itself, the failure to discover the theft," said Anderson.
Ultimately, these negotiations broke down because the suspects no longer possessed the antiquities, having sold them.
Anderson did not deny that AUC staff, especially the assistant director of warehouses and stores Refaie Fattouh, have been negligent. He was the sole custodian of the antiquities since 1994, but Anderson said that she ultimately chose to give them a second chance.
However, she added that there would be no more tolerance of such behavior from now on.
"We identified a number of people who, if we were to find, did something of comparable negligence [a second time], we would have to construe that this was deliberate because they have been put on notice," she said.
"In that instance, so many people made so many astonishing mistakes that we'll construe them as mistakes, but now they know that if they make [more mistakes like that] we don't have to be charitable again."
Anderson told The Caravan that the administration had established that the thefts go all the way into the summer of 2010.
However, all suspect testimonies, confessions, as well as official documents point towards November as the time when the particular group of men blamed for the thefts last year started their operations.
This was detailed in The Caravan's last issue highlighting how the theft took place.
This suggests that some pieces were missing before that particular group of men started their activities. The Caravan was able to obtain documents proving another theft had taken place in 1989, but that the case then went cold with no suspects identified.
In response to the evidence pointing towards the possibility of the 2010 theft being used to cover up more, earlier, thefts or unaccounted for antiquities, especially with several anonymous sources suggesting to The Caravan that the annual inventory meant to be conducted by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) was conducted in an improper manner, Anderson said that it was possible, but that she could not tell for sure.
Anderson said that while she has not seen any evidence supporting this, she found it "certainly conceivable" that people had "picked out [antiquities from the collection] and sold them over the years."
"I am not in a position to refute that. That is as plausible of an interpretation of the facts as we know them as that there was one single theft and in fact, given the complexity of removing the material all at once, it does seem likely that it was removed in several different operations, whether that was from years ago one at a time, I have no idea," she said.
"We did do our investigation, sanctioned the people we thought needed to be sanctioned [...] but I don't think at this point we have any plan or strategy to try to recover the missing material," Anderson added.
But since last year's thefts, AUC may be feeling the curse of the pharaohs as it now finds itself deciding whether to store the antiquities at the New Cairo campus without displaying them to the general public, or releasing them to the care of the SCA, relinquishing possession of them.
In either scenario, the thousands of hours of excavation and cataloging these pieces will have amounted to nothing, as AUC students will not be able to enjoy the antiquities' historic and educational value.
Following the thefts in late 2010, which was detailed in our last issue, administration took the decision to move the pieces from the Tahrir campus subterranean warehouse - which The Caravan has learned to had been breached many times - to the New Campus.
Hesham Abdel Aziz, AUC Vice President of Facilities and Operations in the Tahrir campus, said that the antiquities were moved to prevent another prospective theft from happening.
"[University Counselor] Dr. Amr Salama succeeded in getting a representative from the SCA in the presence of [the antiquities' custodian] Mr. Refaei [Fattouh] and a car in the midst of the Tahrir chaos, and it was all transferred to the new campus," Abdel Aziz told The Caravan in a December 2011 interview.
"These antiquities carry the people's culture and heritage... AUC does not want the collection to be stored away with the people benefiting from its cultural value and so it is planning to review the collection and make a display where some pieces can be shown," Salama told The Caravan last December.
Anderson expressed the university's interest in displaying the antiquities as well.
The Arts Properties Committee was revived shortly after the theft was publicized in March 2011. This was in order to review not only the antiquities collection, but also all of AUC's cultural valuables from painting collections to unique AUC furniture.
The committee's job is to review all objects, catalog them, and decide what is to be displayed.
"It is part of the heritage of the university as well as the heritage of the country and so we would like to display [these antiquities]," said Anderson.
She added in an interview conducted by The Caravan late last year that "the president who is associated with collecting a lot of [these antiquities], Richard Pedersen, recently died and we want to do a memorial service for him, and it will be nice to be able to display some of this collection."
However, when Salama recently wrote to SCA asking for permission to display five pieces, the request was denied.
A source in SCA told The Caravan that AUC is not entitled to display any antiquities according to law 117 of 1983.
Article number 28 of the law states that Egyptian universities may create museums to display antiquities under the supervision and authority of SCA. However, AUC does not fit into this category since it is "an American university on Egyptian soil" and not an Egyptian university, the source claimed.
In this case, AUC can only store the antiquities but is not permitted to display them.
According to another SCA employee, the Egyptian state is within its rights to confiscate the antiquities from AUC, as the university has been negligent in maintaining them.
He expressed cynicism about that actually taking place, telling The Caravan that the government "can't mess with America."
Anderson confirmed that after the theft, then-president of SCA Zahi Hawass wrote to her suggesting that it may be safer if the collection were put in storage in the Fustat area of old Cairo.
Back then however, she told The Caravan that the administration was still undecided on whether or not to take the government up on their offer.
She said that after holding such a display, AUC might then hand over the antiquities or it might decide to keep them.
Such a display was never held due to SCA's refusal.
Now, Anderson said she hopes that after the committee reviews the antiquities collection they can determine which objects they would like to display and which they would rather hand over to SCA. However, if the university is not allowed to display its antiquities collection, it might just hand it over to SCA.
"I don't think we have any real interest in being an antiquities warehouse," she said.
The AUC antiquities collection is not actually owned by the university. Rather, AUC is only allowed to keep it because the university owned it before Egyptian laws were introduced that banned trade and ownership of antiquities.
Records at the SCA show that there are two collections on campus: one general AUC collection comprising of over 1630 pieces, and another collection registered under the name of Karma Pippin.
Over the next two weeks, The Caravan will be publishing two more installments in this series that will focus on the source of these collections, what they consist of, and how they ended up at AUC.