Thursday, August 25, 2011

What’s Next for Egypt’s Artifacts?

New York Observer (Dan Duray)

In late January, during the protests that eventually led to the revolution in Egypt, the news broke that looters had raided the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, current home to some of the most impressive artifacts of early human history. The thieves made off with 18 objects and The Huffington Post, practicing its own brand of excavation, lovingly brushed away the dirt covering the sexiest part of the story and placed it in the headline: “Egypt Looters Rip Heads Off 2 Mummies at Famed Cairo Museum.”

As they were dead, the mummies were ultimately O.K., but the news hinted at a question that would become increasingly pertinent in the coming months: what were the implications of the revolution for those who work with Egyptian artifacts the U.S.?

In the subsequent months, we’ve learned more about the provisional government’s attitude toward its cultural artifacts. The Supreme Council of Antiquities (S.C.A.), the organization responsible for handling such matters, was downgraded from a cabinet ministry. Its prominent and outspoken head, Dr. Zahi Hawass—famous for his Indiana Jones fedora and soapbox passion for repatriation—said in March that he would step down. The impending departure of Dr. Hawass, the face of modern Egyptian archaeology, indicates a shift in the way Egypt will handle its artifacts. Not much is known about Mohamed Abdel Fattah, the man appointed his successor just this week, and the question remains as to how Dr. Hawass’s successor will navigate the tricky role of being both a goodwill ambassador and a staunch nationalist faced with colleagues who own works that, spiritually, still belong to his country.

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