At least 98 old Islamic enameled glass lamps are suspected to have been stolen from Al-Rafa’i mosque in Cairo.
One of the lamps turned up for sale at British auction house Christie’s and aroused the suspicion of Egyptian architect and conservation activist Omneya Abdel Barr. She noticed the lantern carried the seal of khedive Abbas Helmi Pasha, the last Ottoman viceroy of Egypt and Sudan, classifying the item as an antique and identifying it as belonging to the mosque.
Upon further inspection it turned out at least 98 old Islamic glass lamps were missing from the interior of the mosque and had been replaced with cheap replicas. According to Gamal Mohammed Mostafa, general director of the Citadel Antiquities – which Al-Rifa’i mosque is part of – , the lamps were not missing, but simply “stored for safekeeping’ in ‘places that were not easily accessible”.
The lamp – which dates back to the 1910’s – was expected to fetch in between 15,000 and 25,000 British pounds (LE 178,885 – 298,185).
Al-Rifa’i mosque was built in the early 20th century and houses the burial sites for khedive Isma’il Pasha, King Farouk and many other members of Egypt’s royal family. The mosque also briefly served as the resting place of Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran, but his body was later returned to Iran. His son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who died in Cairo in July 1980, now lies in his burial chamber.
Theft and looting of antiquities are not uncommon in Egypt. During a mass demonstration in Tahrir square on the 28th of January 2011, people broke into the Egyptian Museum and damaged several antiquities. About 50 items were stolen -many of them have never been recovered.
In August 2013, looters ransacked an archaeological museum in the rural village of Malawa. Of its 1,079 pieces, about a thousand were stolen and 14 were destroyed. Around 900 items have been recovered.
Another similar incident took place after the bombing of the Security Directorate in Cairo in January 2014, which resulted in the Islamic Museum across the street being heavily damaged and consequently, many of its prized possessions were looted.
To counter the continued occurrence of such thefts, concerned citizens have started a Facebook group called Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, where members can post links to auctioned items they believe may be stolen.