One of the world's great museums resembled a military camp on Thursday, with soldiers patrolling behind its wrought iron gates and armored vehicles parked nearby. Inside, workers with white coats and latex gloves delicately handled artifacts that were damaged in the chaos sweeping Egypt.
The country's priceless trove of antiquities has emerged mostly unscathed from the unrest so far, but tourism, a pillar of the Egyptian economy, has not. Tens of thousands of foreigners have fled Egypt, many on evacuation flights organized by their governments, draining a key source of employment and foreign currency.
Egypt's most famous tourist attraction, the Pyramids of Giza, reopened to tourists on Wednesday after a 12-day closure. But few came to visit. The heavily guarded and shuttered Egyptian Museum in Cairo is next to Tahrir Square, a protest encampment that draws hundreds of thousands of people on some days.
"We will open the museum after the strike is finished. I don't know when the strike is finished," said Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass, referring to the upheaval. "I need things to go back to normal."
Egypt's conflict pits autocratic President Hosni Mubarak against protesters who want him out now. Anti-government demonstrators and Mubarak supporters battled in front of the Egyptian Museum's pink-walled facade last week, raising fears of widespread destruction of the most coveted artifacts from the age of the pharaohs.
In earlier unrest, the adjacent headquarters of the ruling party was set afire, and its blackened shell looms over the museum.
Some 70 objects at the Victorian-era Egyptian Museum, many of them small statues, were damaged after looters broke into the museum and smashed showcases in late January. On Thursday, several dozen items lay on tables in a conservation room, examined by experts with small tools and adhesive.
Some were funerary items of Yuya and Tuya, parents of a queen. Their tomb was found in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor in 1905, though that remarkable find was eclipsed by the discovery of Tutankhamun's well-preserved tomb by British archaeologist Howard Carter less than two decades later.
Hawass said "the only important piece" that was damaged was a statue of Tutankhamun, the boy king, on a panther. The figure of the standing king, one arm broken off, lay separate from that of the panther.