Wednesday, May 28, 2014

News: Cloning the Sphinx in China

Early in the last week the Hebei province located at the foot of the Taihang Mountains in China attracted the world’s attention with an identical replica of the limestone Sphinx sitting by Khafre’s pyramid on the Giza plateau. The Chinese version, the centre of a new theme park, is carved in reinforced concrete but it has the same physical features and size of the original one. Even the broken nose, damaged 100 years ago, is imitated. 

According to a video published on the news web site Newsflare, the Chinese Sphinx took just two months of construction and is a new tourist attraction in China. It will also be used as part of a movie set. The project was supported by an entertainment conglomerate based in southern China’s Hangzhou, which invested five million Yuan to build the theme park near another tourist attraction, the Dragon Spring Temple. It also features a range of “world cultural heritage” and fake cityscapes for shooting movies. But can this replica of the Sphinx challenge the original? Does its construction mean that China is violating property rights?

The news has actually generated something of a commotion among Egyptians who see the Chinese Sphinx as a violation of world antiquities laws and UNESCO conventions. Minister of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim told Al-Ahram Weekly that the ministry has sent an official letter to Egypt’s permanent envoy at the UN Mohamed Sameh Amr objecting to the construction of the Chinese Sphinx, which he called a violation of Egypt’s rights to its cultural heritage and a bad imitation that disfigures the original.

In the letter, Ibrahim asked UNESCO to implement Paragraph 3 of Article 6 of UNESCO’s 1972 convention stipulating that “Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and 2 situated on the territory of other States Parties to this Convention”.

“The ministry will address UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, to inform her that the reproduction of the Sphinx harms the cultural heritage of Egypt where the statue is registered on the World Heritage List,” Ibrahim asserted, adding that Egypt will also coordinate with the Foreign Ministry to address the Chinese Embassy in Cairo.

Archaeologist Mohsen Ali for his part says that what China has done is a violation of Article 39 of Egypt’s antiquities Law 117/1983 and its 2010 amendments which stipulate that the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is the only authority with the right to produce replicas of Egypt’s monuments. Any replica of the Sphinx, he said, must hold the SCA stamp.

All Egyptian archaeologists have supported Ibrahim’s letter to UNESCO. Ayman Waziri, the deputy of the Egyptian Archaeologists Union, feels that no country should be allowed to interfere with the heritage of another country by replicating its monuments without permission.

He also asked the Minister of Antiquities to draft a law to protect Egypt’s intellectual rights to its antiquities. Waziri pointed out that there is the Luxor City in Las Vegas. Several ancient Egyptian artefacts were reproduced by several countries in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong-Kong and Japan.

Scholar Ahmed Amer, who describes the construction project of a fake Sphinx as a robbery of Egypt’s history and a violation of its cultural heritage, asked UNESCO, the Egyptian Embassy in China and the Egyptian government to interfere immediately and to take all legal measures to demolish the Sphinx replica.

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