On September 2, Egypt’s House of Representatives amended law #177. The original law became effective in 1983 and was designed to protect Egypt’s antiquities. The new amendment makes it a crime for anyone who climbs up antiquities or visits archaeological sites or museums without a license to do so. The punishment includes one month in prison and/or a fine of approximately $600-$6000 USD. The penalties are doubled for anyone committing an “immoral or obscene” act at the site.
The first part of the amendment is clearly designed to prevent people from climbing historic sites such as the pyramids, whether for a panoramic photograph or a “selfie”. Such laws are not unusual as the rise of the “selfie” saw a parallel rise in damage to both historic sites and antiquities as photographers insisted on taking pictures of themselves standing or sitting on fragile items.
What is interesting is the second part of the amendment dealing with “immoral or obscene” acts. While other countries have adopted laws to deal with “selfie”-takers and the resulting damage they can cause, they do not usually include penalties for “immoral or obscene” acts. Apparently in the last several years not all visitors to Egyptian sites were content with just a selfie. With the rise of social media, Egyptian authorities have discovered visitors have taken pictures of themselves—without clothing. And many times, focusing on particular body parts. Others are posting videos of themselves engaging in activities which many countries would deem inappropriate in a public setting. Apparently, this has gotten so problematic that the Egyptian House of Representatives needed to amend law #177 to discourage this behavior.
While many of us are staying close to home due to Covid-19, those of us tasked with protecting cultural heritage shouldn’t forget that tourists can do some very strange things while on vacation.