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Egypt and the Louvre Museum

Egypt stops collaboration with the Louvre Museum

Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff Writer  Oct 14, 2009

A harsh decision was handed down by Egyptian antiquities authority this weekend.

“The decision taken by the Permanent Committee at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) to stop archaeological collaboration with the Louvre Museum does not have any relation to the result of the recent UNESCO election for Director-General in which the Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni was a candidate,” said Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). Hawass added that such a decision was in response to the actions of the Louvre in January - eight months before the UNESCO election.

Recently, Egypt’s culture minister lost his seat during the UNESCO elections. He would have been the first Arab to head the agency, thus sending a positive signal from the West to the Muslim world. Hosni’s campaign was met with strong opposition from US and French commentators, as well as from Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who said appointing Hosni would "shame" the global community.

The Egyptian and Arabic candidate for the post was subjected to a ferocious campaign against him by the American administration, under Jewish pressure, said the opposition weekly Al-Ahrar on its front page. Jewish intellectuals in France met his campaign with an uncivilized attack. Egyptian papers described the election and the US pressure on countries to vote against Hosni as "voting at knifepoint." In his lengthy political career, Hosni has often been accused of promoting anti-Semitism, in particular in 2008 when he told the Egyptian parliament: he’d burn Israeli books “myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt."

Apart from Hosni's loss, Egypt is not willing to support the French museum as the Louvre bought five fragments removed from the wall of Theban Tomb 15, the tomb of the nobleman Tetiky in Dra Abu'l Naga, an area on Luxor’s west bank. The fragments were illegally taken from the country and sold to the Louvre, in spite of the fact that Christian Ziglere, then curator of the ancient Egyptian department at the Louvre allegedly knew that these fragments were stolen in 1980.

Hawass stated that the SCA did not know that the Louvre owned these fragments until a German mission working at Dra Abu’l Naga notified the SCA in January 2009. The SCA presented their evidence to the Louvre and attempted all friendly means to secure the return of the stolen fragments. However, the Louvre claimed that no action could be taken until they received approval from scientific authorities and the French Ministry of Culture.

“If these procedures were met the whole issue could be resolved very quickly,” said Hawass. “But the Louvre delayed the accomplishment of such procedures. The Louvre has to implement the regulations and laws enacted in the 1980’s and again in 2002, which stipulate that museums must return any stolen object to its country of origin.”

Hawass asserted that this is not the first time the SCA has suspended archaeological cooperation with a museum or scholars for involvement in illegal antiquities dealings. The Permanent Committee made a similar decision concerning the Saint Louis Art Museum in the United States, which houses the stolen mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer. Although the SCA provided all required documents proving that the mask was stolen from Saqqara in 1930, the St. Louis Art Museum refused to hand it over to Egypt.

Egypt stops collaboration with the Louvre Museum
Photo by Nelson Alcantara

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