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Auctioning Our Cultural Heritage

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, July 4

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Antiquities issued a harshly-worded condemnation regarding the auctioning of a King Tut sculpture at the famous Christie’s auction house last week. The auction was held as planned, despite clear evidence from the Egyptian government that the relic had been stolen from its rightful owners and smuggled from Egypt. The Egyptian authorities demanded to freeze the auction to allow time for inspection and verification of the item, but the British auction house refused. This type of behavior is a direct manifestation of Britain’s arrogance when it comes to artifacts of historical, cultural and religious value, which have been stolen time and again by British archaeologists working in the Middle East. In order to stop the theft of our most treasured historical artifacts, a dramatic change is needed. While it is certainly useful for the Egyptian Embassy in London to continue its investigation of the stolen relic, we must also escalate the campaign to protect our historical artifacts to the international level. Egyptian archeologists and archeological institutions, including the Egyptian Museum and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, must stand at the forefront of establishing clear codes of conduct when it comes to the illicit trade of historical artifacts. These respectable institutions must encourage their international counterparts to ban any historical relics whose ownership has not been unequivocally determined through a thorough investigation and documentation process. Without such an international campaign, the King Tut bust, as well as many other Egyptian artifacts, might be lost forever. International treaties and conventions pertaining to trade should also be updated to include the looting of historical artifacts. We cannot let Western strongmen come into our countries, dig out our most valuable possessions and smuggle them outside our borders. This is a matter not only of national pride, but also of justice and fairness. Christie’s is yet to provide the Egyptian Embassy in London with the ownership documents it requested. Excuses have been made about the protection of the seller’s anonymity. This is simply unacceptable. Unless it complies with the Egyptian investigation, the British auction house should be boycotted by all museums and art traders around the world, alongside other institutions that refuse to increase the transparency of their practices. – Hamdi Rizk (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)