The Egyptian National Museum in Cairo houses more than 120,000 historical antiquities, including the solid-gold death mask of one of Egypt’s most famous ancient kings, Tutankhamen (Tut).  Egyptians Work to Protect Ancient Relics From Looting Protestors

As protesters fire-bombed a number of government buildings in Cairo, fire quickly spread to areas immediately adjacent to the world-renowned museum.  In addition, many feared looters would break into the museum and destroy any number of priceless artifacts. The Associated Press reports that a number of protesters formed a “human chain” around the building to try and keep out potential looters:

One man pleaded with people outside the museum’s gates on Tahrir Square not to loot the building, shouting at the crowd: “We are not like Baghdad.” After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, thieves carted off thousands of artifacts from the National Museum in Baghdad — only a fraction of which have been recovered.

Suddenly other young men — some armed with truncheons taken from the police — formed a human chain outside the main entrance in an attempt to protect the collection inside.

“I’m standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure,” said one of the men, Farid Saad, a 40-year-old engineer.

Another man, 26-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim, said it was important to guard the museum because it “has 5,000 years of our history. If they steal it, we’ll never find it again.”

Now, according to Reuters, the Egyptian army has stepped in to secure the museum and protect its precious collection:

Army units secured the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo against possible looting on Friday, protecting a building with spectacular pharaonic treasures such as the death mask of the boy king Tutankhamun, state TV said.  The news follows a day of violent anti-government protests in Cairo and other cities. Some of the most violent scenes in four days of protests have been in squares and streets close to the museum building.

It was also broadcast as reports of looting of some government buildings emerged. One Reuters photographer said looters had broken into a ruling party building near the museum and were walking out with furniture, computers and other items.

Well-known Egyptian film director Khaled Youssef had earlier called on the army to ensure the museum was protected, in comments to the Al Arabiya television channel.  “I am calling on the Egyptian army to head instantly to the Egyptian museum. There is a fire right next to it in the (ruling) Party headquarters,” said Youssef, who has directed movies critical of government policies.

State TV carried a brief headline saying the army had secured the museum but did not give any more details.