I was planning to resume my articles this week on schizophrenic Muslims, who are doing much injustice to themselves and their religion. But I rapidly changed my mind when a masterpiece by the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh was cut out of its frame in the Mr & Mrs Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Giza last week and simply disappeared
Even though I have visited this museum several times and for different purposes, it never occurred to me that this grandiose, French-style building was just like a Swiss cheese and that any item in its invaluable collection could be easily spirited out of one of its holes.
I have had the opportunity to view the stolen painting, Poppy Flowers, on different occasions. I’m a great lover of fine art and I must confess that I’ve often wondered whether the security guards in the museum are carefully vetted and adequately qualified to guard these priceless pieces of mankind’s heritage and civilisation.
I’ve also wondered whether any of these private security guards are really aware just how much many of the wonderful, internationally famous canvasses and small marble and bronze statues in the museum are actually worth.
I would not be surprised if someone informed me that these same guards, desperate for work, had first of all knocked at the doors of hypermarkets in Maadi and 6th October City, only to be turned away by these shopping centres’ skeptical managers.
So their job search then took them to the Mr & Mrs Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum.
Nor would I be surprised if some of the guards in the museum do their work reluctantly, hoping to leave just as soon as a better job crops up somewhere else.
The small wages of these guards and their pitiful knowledge of the masterpieces they guard are a source of embarrassment and weakness.
A small wage doesn’t motivate an employee to do his best, while a man guarding things that he might not think are valuable would blithely doze his shift away, especially at night, and even welcome thieves to have some tea with him, because he’d get lonely in the early hours of the morning.
A lack of interest in art, uncertainty about their future and resentment about their small wages would hardly make these guards warm to their task of monitoring foreign and local visitors to the place.
However, if the visitors were pretty females, they would be closely monitored, but not for security reasons or any suspicious moves they might make.
It was all the more upsetting when it was revealed that the CCTV and other warning systems in the museum had packed up long ago.
The theft must have pained Minister of Culture Farouq Hosni and the head of the Sector of Fine Arts, artist Mohsen Shaalan, more than anyone else. The Minister of Culture has survived many scandals, but I doubt he’ll survive this time.
Hosni, who was first appointed to the Cabinet in 1986 and is now the longest-serving minister under President Mubarak’s leadership, survived the storm provoked in 2000 by Muslim fundamentalists and conservatives, when his Ministry’s print house published A Banquet for Seaweed, written by a Syrian novelist.
He cleverly sidestepped a violent attack in Parliament and returned safely to his office, becoming more active than before.
The Minister of Culture then miraculously survived the crisis when 40 stage actors, critics and members of the audience were burnt to death during a provincial theatre festival in the Upper Egyptian city of Beni Sueif in 2005.
The minister also dodged blows from Muslim fundamentalists and extremists when he criticised niqab (veil) wearers and insulted their intelligence.
His alleged insults to veiled women and girls were published in the independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. He also managed to escape the blows aimed at him by MPs belonging to the diehard Muslim Brotherhood.
But I think that this latest whodunit in the Mr & Mrs Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum is the last for the Minister, who has run out of excuses and ifs and buts.