Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hawass on the importance of repatriation

Asharq Alawsat (Zahi Hawass)

When the campaign to restore Egypt’s stolen antiquities first began, the world – particularly the archeological community – was surprised by the force of our call and insistence that our stolen artifacts and heritage be returned to us. The initial rallying call for our antiquities to be returned to their homeland was made from the heart of the British Museum, after I was invited to give a lecture there.

After the lecture, the museum curator invited British intellectuals and several politicians to a dinner that was held in one of the museums halls, where I noticed that a number of Egyptian antiquities were on display. Such antiquities included the magnificent statue of King Ramses II, the greatest Egyptian pharaoh of them all, as well as a statue of King Tuthmosis III, who has been nicknamed the "Napoleon of Ancient Egypt" as he is credited with expanding the ancient Egyptian empire as far north as Anatolia and as far south as the fourth Cataract of the Nile [Dar al-Manasir]. After dinner, the museum curator delivered a pleasant speech welcoming me to the British Museum; the curator also paid tribute to British-Egyptian relations in the field of archeology and praised the cooperation that exists between the British Museum and Egypt.



I am surprised at the introduction to th e article by Hawass.. The Egyptian archaeologist makes it clear in the speech you partly reproduce that he has no intention of requesting the return of all the Egyptian artefacts in the museum:

“In my speech, I said that Egyptian antiquities, including statues of its pharaohs, as well as its queens, princes, princesses, and viziers, have a strong presence in museums around the world. Although these antiquities have been removed from their natural environment, whether they were a gift [to a country from Egypt], whether Egypt formally renounced its claim on them, or whether they were legally sold and purchased – for Egyptian law allowed the legal sale of such antiquities in the past – Egypt cannot today demand the return of these antiquities for we are committed to respecting all the international charters and agreements signed by Egypt, even if this is not in the country's best interests. However – I said – that Egypt was calling for the return of any antiquity that left Egypt illegally, and we will not give up this right, whether this is the return of antiquities to Egypt, or the return of other antiquities to their homeland, for example the antiquities stolen from Iraq.”

So what is the basis for the statement in the introduction that he intends to clear the museum of all Egyptian artefacts? Or are you saying that all the Egyptian artefacts in the British Museum were illegally acquired?

Andie said...

To be perfectly honest I mis-read the article. Not a moment of great personal pride! Apologies to all concerned and I have removed my comment.

You should know very well, particularly given that I have posted many of your articles on the blog when you have sent them to me, that I try to post balanced viewpoints about repatriation.

Tom Flynn said...

Hi Andie,
I'm sorry you chose to remove your comment as I missed the earlier part of the thread that Kwame sent me. However, this looks to me like another typically confused utterance from Zahi Hawass who does little to win over those who might otherwise support his requests for return. In one sentence he seems to be saying that Egypt intends to make no claim on those items acquired legally, but in almost the next breath he states his objection to the display in Western museums of Egyptian objects per se, "even if most of these antiquities had been taken from the countries in a legal manner. Egypt is calling for these artifacts to be returned to their homeland, and is prepared to compensate museums [that return these] with other artifacts."

In any event, until the British Museum installs a new director backed by an enlightened board of trustees endowed with the capacity for independent thought, no progress will be made on the issue of selective repatriation.
Best wishes,

Andie said...

Hi Tom

Good to hear from you. The problem I often have with postings from Hawass is that the emotional overlay effectively distracts from his main message. When he was writing about feeling as though the statues in the BM wanted to return to Egypt I was so taken aback that I failed to take in the rest of the message about only wanting the return of items that are in dispute on legal bases. My fault entirely on this occasion, although I do so agree about contradictions in some of his statements.

Repatriation is such an emotive issue and at the moment it seems to be and easy topic for some journalists who focus on the emotional aspects of the problem rather than the actual issues. I've read so much that is frankly embarassing, and this diverts attention away from the important work being done by organizations who try to break smuggling rings and protect sites in the field.

In the last couple of hundred years Ancient Egypt has become a part of western heritage too, thanks to the enthusiasm of early archaeologists and treasure hunters, and to the rulers that allowed objects to be removed and sold.