Thursday, January 26, 2012

Who should save Egypt's archives?

Al Jazeera (Hussein Omar)

It has sometimes been claimed that, like human rights and democracy, the protection of Egypt's cultural heritage cannot be left to the Egyptians. Corruption, poverty and ignorance, Egypt's critics maintain, pose a serious threat to the preservation of artefacts of "global importance".

Egypt's own Antiquities Council, of course, claims otherwise. Attempting to demonstrate its commitment to safeguarding "national heritage", erstwhile director Zahi Hawass waged a mildly successful international campaign to repatriate what "rightly belongs" to Egypt. In one case, a mummy returned from Atlanta, Georgia, was given a farcical state-funeral, serenaded by singing schoolchildren and marching military bagpipers.

Hawass, obsessed with ancient showpieces like the bust of Nefertiti and the Rosetta Stone, has long overlooked the theft of Egypt's non-ancient heritage. Ottoman deeds and Khedivial records that have mysteriously appeared in both private and public collections in the Gulf, for example, fell entirely outside the remit of his campaign.

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