While the present wave of looting is certainly worrying - and most especially at Abydos - with media restrictions relaxed, more evidence is starting to emerge that looting has been an ongoing problem for several years now. For instance the Egyptian Chronicle has reported long-term threats to several sites:
These violations have been happening for the past decade and officials haven't done anything about it. When the revolution erupted, the Antiquities Police and the cultural officials working here disappeared, which has only exacerbated the problem.
There is more news in that article. Most of it is only single sourced, but it certainly makes grim reading. Then there are stories like this one about the Mausoleum of Mohamed Cherif Pasha in Cairo:
In the past ten years, various artifacts have been reported missing. In 2004, the illuminated copy of the Quran was replaced by incomplete copies of various folios, and the investigating Awqaf committee informed Sabit that the inventory did not specify that the Quran was handwritten or illuminated. An Awqaf inspector told Sabit that “one Koran was as good as another.” A police report was filed, yet investigators concluded that no wrongdoing had occurred. This encouraged Sabit to create a complete photographic archive of the items in the mausoleum.And:
In 2008, various items, including the handwritten calligraphic scrolls, were removed from the mausoleum by the Higher Council of Islamic Antiquities, and Sabit still does not know their whereabouts.Sadly as the article reveals, the Mausoleum was completely stripped of all its remaining furniture and artifacts during the present crisis.
It is hard because there has been a lot of disinformation out of Egypt over the past six weeks. It's got to the stage where I am sceptical about almost everything - including obviously even these reports. Nonetheless a picture is emerging that archaeological sites have been suffering rather more badly over the past decade than the SCA over that time reported to the media, both in terms of illegal digging and the building of houses. There has indeed been a terrible step up in some areas over the past few weeks; however, I think that reports which present site damage and looting purely as a new phenomenon have a political edge. My personal impression is that the damage to sites should be considered as an ongoing problem which has escalated in part because of recent reduced security, but also in part because a culture of site damage has been permitted to persist over the past decade and because the SCA has not been particularly vigilant in maintaining the security of some sites.
Some people have suggested that some of the present looting of stores might be intended to cover up earlier illicit removal of antiquities. I have seen no evidence to support this accusation, but reading the Mausoleum story for example, it is very easy to see that some individuals in that case might benefit if it is now impossible to show what was removed over the past decade.