CONTROVERSY: PUBLIC SPACES FORBIDDEN TO PUBLIC: An Analysis of the Closed Looted Egyptian Antiquities Museum and Other Exclusive Public Spaces

Mallawi Museum -  Picture of damaged mummy coffin in Mallawi Museum in Egypt after looting

In the mist of the Cairo’s crisis the culture has been compromised.  Following the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, different religious, ethnic and economic class groups are in conflict with one another,  and this has lead to the single event of the looting of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities on August 17th, 2013.  The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Malawi, near Cairo, was closed to the public following the looting.  The museum, once an open public place to appreciate and archive the culture that Egypt began on is being guarded by soldiers as well as citizens. Select members of Cairo’s Muslim Brotherhood openly boasted prior, during and after the looting that they were solely responsible for the entire crime from looting to destroying the Museum as well as Ramses’ Square, Al Fatah Mosque and the Evangelical Church of Malawi.  The European Union and the United Nations instilled the Egyptian Military to guard and prevent any access to the museum the next day, after a short spell of Egyptian citizens guarding it in the immediate aftermath.

The public space is synonymous with “tolerance;” not necessarily home but a place where all can take liberty to interact with each other and share any and all ideas. Liberalism as well as population are considered key factors in the design of a public space, and the users of the space hold influence over the direction the space may take over time. The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo was a place for its people to learn, analyze, reflect and share ideas on the foundation of their culture through viewing ancient artifacts and texts. The cultural crisis in Cairo has mutilated the natural function of the space into an empty shell that holds only tragedy.  The very people that the museum was built for are the ones who destroyed it.  The destruction of the museum is the death of the culture because where the cultural roots were displayed are no longer accessible. The public benefit is trumped by civil differences.

The destruction of the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities led to a chain of events of other cultural centers being destroyed. Ramses’ Square, Al Fatah Mosque and the Evangelical Church of Malawi were destroyed and held from the public as they were formerly used.

Baghdad is the site of another example nearly identical to the events that happened in Egypt. In the middle of suicide bombings, civil war and international intervention, Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad was destroyed and looted the day that Baghdad fell to U.S troops in 2003.  The Museum was left destroyed, looted and closed to the public after a spell of zero protection by the US government. Ten years later, hundreds of artifacts remain missing and the US has barely made a dent in the renovations it took control of, only having rebuilt 5 of the 30 exhibitions that were destroyed. Perhaps because of a conflict of interests, the cultural history of Iraq has been destroyed in the midst of confusion over who owns and governs the architectural temple that houses it. The Cultural Ministry and Tourism Ministry, instilled by the U.S,  are in charge of the museum as of 2005 but the museum is still not open to the public.  The public institution has been kept from the public by people who are not necessarily even members of the culture.  The people cannot even experience the destruction that they inflicted upon the space because it has been taken out of their hands.  The new Iraqi generation, grown up in a world of terrorism and chaos, has no knowledge of their cultural history and no moral to save the architectural space that housed it because they have never experienced a space that connects them to their roots across time and space. The Iraqi National Museum remains closed indefinitely because the only people advocating its renovation and reopening is a handful of international middle aged scholars. The new Iraqi generation is yet to step forward and retake control of its history.

In the midst of the  Iraqi-U.S Conflict the tragedy of 9/11 happened. Following the tragedy, U.S security measures were exaggerated to preserve American public space.  The Statue of Liberty that is a national testament to the diverse ethnities of the American public was closed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, affecting the US moral.  The Statue is made up of a staircase that gets tighter in radius as you ascend to the Lady Liberty’s crown, and as the Statue of Liberty reopened to the American public, access was opened in layers from the bottom up.  The base holds the most people and is the most accessible to the public, but the top of the Statue of Liberty, the flame, is the most aspired to be occupied by the public because it is the point at which each American can look at where they are going and where they have come from. Twelve years later the crown is just being reopened and was thought to be closed indefinitely until this year.

There are other instances of public spaces not being public throughout history. In June 1989 the public dissatisfaction with the Chinese government caused a massacre in Tiananmen Square by the government, resulting in a public square that still leaves the taste of blood in Chinese mouths. To this day discussion of any kind within the square is prohibited by the government. Even today the square can be occupied by people like a public space but the Chinese are not allowed to exchange words, only foreigners are allowed to speak within the square as they admire the overbearing monuments to the communist government who control this public space. This square was designed to be a controlled public square, not a truly liberal space for the Chinese to share themselves with one another.

Public space over time has deteriorated in these and other instances, when certain bodies take over the public spaces and make them exclusive. This trend has taken the original cultural institution away from the whole and thus reduced cultural awareness and communication across time.  The new generation is growing up less connected to their roots because architectural public spaces are no longer public for the them.  The architecture of these important spaces that are built to enhance communication across time are now being constrained to benefit a small group, but the original design was intended to benefit all.





1040 Malawi Artefacts Looted From Upper Egyptian Museum Amid Riot. (2013, Aug 16). Al – Ahram Gate. Retrieved from

This newspaper article describes the Egyptian public’s reaction to the destruction of their public spaces. This is helpful in understanding the situation we are studying and how different groups interact with different public spaces.

“Egyptian Museum, Pyramids Closed for Second Day | Egypt Independent.” Egyptian Museum, Pyramids Closed for Second Day | Egypt Independent. Egypt Independent News, 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013.

This newspaper article describes the reaction of other public spaces in response to the destruction of public space in the Cairo area. Specifically, this article reflects on the closure of Egypt’s Pyramids in response to the looting of the Malawi Antiquities Museum. This is helpful in aiding our study of the exclusiveness of intended public spaces.

El Shorouk, Roger Anis. “Pictures: Looters Shatter Museum of Ancient Egyptian Treasures.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013. <>.

This news magazine article on the looting of the Malawi Antiquities Museum does a good job of reflecting on the widespread reaction of other public spaces that were closed in response. This article also does a good job of describing the role the Malawi Antiquities Museum played in Egyptian public life prior to being destroyed.

Egyptian Streets. “The Allegory of the Mallawi Museum: History Lost.” Egyptian Streets: A Pathway to Recovery. Egyptian Streets, 20 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013. <>.

This is another online news article that gives a different opinion on the reaction to the event. This article implies that the Egyptian culture has been impacted in a negative way, which aids us in researching the effects of the restriction on this public architectural space.

Cultural Heritage by AIA Military Panel. “Current News on Looted Mallawi Antiquities Museum.” CHAMP. CHAMP, 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013. <>.

This page is a constantly updated news source regarding current events related to the looting of the Malawi Antiquities Museum. It gives information regarding the whereabouts of specific lost treasures, closure of public spaces in and around Cairo, and the security measures placed on surrounding museums. This is helpful in understanding the scope of the reaction to the event we are researching.

Al Arabiya News. ” History Goes Up in Smoke at Egypt’s Sacked Malawi Museum.” History Goes up in Smoke at Egypt’s Sacked Mallawi Museum. Al Arabiya News, 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013. <>.

This Middle Eastern newspaper article gives the best description of what physically happened at the site of the looting and the surrounding affected public spaces. This is helpful in understanding the physical architectural changes.

MSNBC. “Statue of Liberty’s Crown to Stay Closed.” MSNBC, 8 Sept. 2006. Web. 09 Sept. 2013. <>.

This news article discusses permanent closure of the crown of the Statue of Liberty and how it was never intended for public use, which gives us an opportunity to explore the Statue of Liberty architecturally and how architecture can be manipulated.

Encyclopedia Entries

Tiananmen Square.” Philip’s Encyclopedia 2008. London: Philip’s, 2008. Credo Reference. Web. 09 September 2013.

This encyclopedia entry on Tiananmen Square gives a broad overview of the square and major public gatherings that have happened in it that imply the square does not allow freedom of speech despite the architecture of the space. We intend to use this source to look at the architecture of public squares and whether a square can be designed with more than one intent.

Scholarly Articles

Taylor, N. (2007). Tiananmen square. History Today, 57(6), 10-11. Retrieved from

This article explains the architecture of Tiananmen Square and the contrasting rules of how the public is allowed to act within it. It explains how it appears welcoming but security forces intimidate the public into submission. We find this source useful in exploring the extent public spaces can be made private.

Neue Zuercher Zeitung. “Bedrohte Denkmaeler in Aegyten: Unweiderbringlicher Verluste- Kunst Und Architektur.” Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Zeue Zuercher Zeitung, 18 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013. <>.

This is an interview with a Swiss archeologist by a Swiss newspaper in response to the looting of the Malawi Museum. It is a reflective account of what the educated community thinks will happen to the culture of Egypt and the role of art and architecture.

Orthographic Documentation

Google Earth. “The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities Cairo, Egypt.” Map. Google Earth. N.p.: n.p., 2011. N. pag. Google Earth. Web. 09 Sept. 2013.

Perspective view from above of Malawi Museum of Antiquities and the surrounding buildings and space, before looting.

Google Earth. “The Evangelical Church of Malawi, Egypt.” Map. Google Earth. N.p.: n.p., 2011. N. pag. Google Earth. Web. 09 Sept. 2013.

Perspective view of Evangelical Church down the street from the museum, looted and bombed the same night by the same group of terrorists.

Google Earth. “The Al Fatah Mosque of Cairo, Egypt.” Map. Google Earth. N.p.: n.p., 2011. N. pag. Google Earth. Web. 09 Sept. 2013.

Perspective view of the Al Fatah Mosque and surrounding area, used as a hospital after being terrorized and surrounded by riots the same week of the looting.

Google Earth. “Ramses Square Cairo, Egypt.” Map. Google Earth. N.p.: n.p., 2011. N. pag. Google Earth. Web. 09 Sept. 2013.

Perspective view from above of Ramses Square which has been the site of riots before and after the looting.

Google Earth. “Map of Ramses Square, Malawi Museum of Antiquities, Evangelical Church, Al Fatah Mosque, and Pyramids Site, Egypt.” Map. Google Earth. N.p.: n.p., 2011. N. pag. Google Earth. Web. 09 Sept. 2013.

Map of sites directly influenced by the lootings of the Malawi Museum of Antiquities.

Video and Audio

Reilly, Jill. “Looters Ransack Egyptian Antiques Museum and Snatch Priceless Artefacts as Armed Police Move inside Stormed Cairo Mosque  .” Mail Online. N.p., 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013.

This online newspaper article contains several videos of the riots that occurred when the Malawi Antiquities Museum was looted, as well as the Evangelical Church of Malawi that was looted and bombed, and several other events that all happened the same day. The visual and audio representation of the chaos and masses of people who are all full of different emotions gives a helpful insight into the causes and effects of destroying a public space physically and mentally.

FOX News. “10 Years after Looting, Iraq National Museum Long Way from Public Opening, despite Renovations.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013. <>.

This news article reflects on the looting and destruction of the Baghdad Museum on April 10, 2003, a similar event to the one we are studying. This article describes the similarities and differences of the reaction to the closure of this public museum which is still closed today, in comparison to the Malawi Museum of Antiquities.

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>