Garbage dumping and archaeological looting in Abu Sir alarm residents

Since last January’s uprising, the archaeologically rich area of Abu Sir in the Giza Governorate has come to resemble an ad hoc garbage disposal site due to a lack of law enforcement coupled with an ongoing conflict between the army, a nearby sand quarry and a garbage dump, residents say.

The governorate’s garbage dump site is situated several kilometers into the desert at the end of a road that also leads to a sand quarry, near the Beni Yusef army base.

However, due to a lack of law enforcement and police presence, the garbage trucks no longer deposit at the dump site regularly, dumping the garbage in the nearby canals, throughout the desert, and among the area’s archaeological sites instead.

The garbage now reaches as far back as the western end of the Moneib highway, starting in the desert and running all along the Mansoureya road canal.

The Abu Sir sand quarry has, according to residents, been digging outside its property for years, crossing the restrictive lines put in place by the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs.

The same location was reported to have fallen victim to archaeological theft and looting during the 2011 protests earlier last year.

Residents say that this looting and digging for antiquities has never stopped and now involves many of the quarrymen.

“Before, there were occasional cases of people searching at night with a shovel and a flashlight, but now it’s being done on a bigger scale, using the trucks during the day,” says a local resident who asked to remain anonymous due to sensitivity around the issue and a fear for his own safety.

“They’re no longer just taking sand, you can find them looking through the sand inside the trucks, dumping it then taking more. They’re even digging into the mud all the way under the sand, too, which dates back to ancient times,” the resident said.

Recently, territorial issues with the nearby army base have led to conflicts that resulted in trucks from the sand quarry blocking important roads in Abu Sir with bulldozers and sand in retaliation, including the road leading to Giza Governorate’s garbage dump site.

The details of the disputes are uncertain, but road blockades mean that all of trucks transporting the governorate’s garbage are often not able to reach the dump site, so it gets dumped throughout Abu Sir. This practice, residents say, has continued even after the roads were cleared.

To make matters worse, the garbage is also sifted through for valuable items, and often burned.

Visiting the location reveals a shocking site of massive piles of burning trash, dead animals, birds and dogs among archaeological heritage sites and around the canal.

Meanwhile, the over-digging from the quarry has left holes of meteoric proportions scattered throughout the locality. The army appears to remain idle as garbage trucks and trucks filled with sand just whisk by consistently dumping their goods, or rummaging through it and burning it.

According to the residents, many official complaints have been filed, to no result.

The issue is also particularly sensitive among the residents, who asked for anonymity out of fear of the quarrymen, who are very well known and locally established in Abu Sir — and often armed.

“The garbage is of course a huge disaster that needs fixing, but what’s more crucial is preventing and monitoring the archaeological looting,” said another resident who wished to remain anonymous. “But they’re all related, and nobody, not the ministry or the army, wants to address the issue.”

The Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs refused to provide a statement, stating that any looting of the area has stopped, and that the issue of garbage dumping is not its responsibility.

The Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs said that issues involving the sand quarry and the Abu Sir locality fall under the responsibility of the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs.

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