Friday, November 18, 2016

News: Oxford Union Hosts Debate on Repatriation of Arab Antiquities Acquired During Colonial Rule

The prestigious debate society hosted students and art historians from Europe and the Middle East; those arguing for the return of artifacts to their countries of origin won the debate with 165 votes to 106. Written By/ Nevine El-Aref.

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass with the debaters 
The Oxford Union hosted a debate on Tuesday at Oxford University on the repatriation of Arab artifacts acquired under colonial rule, which are now on display in European and American museums. The prestigious debate society invited students to observe the debate, ask questions, argue their own opinions, and vote for a winner at the end.

On one side of the stage, were those arguing for the return of artifacts to their countries of origin. Speakers on this side included directors of major European museums, including former director of the  Voorlinden,  Wim Pijbes, and Zahi Hawass, former Egyptian minister of antiquities and director of excavations at Giza, Saqqara, Bahariya Oasis and Valley of the Kings. The side opposing repatriation included speakers James Cuno, President and CEO of J Paul Getty Trust, and Dr Sabine Haag, General Director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Austrian Museum of Ethnology and the Austrian Theatre Museum.

Hawass with his team
Hawass told Ahram Online that those in favor of keeping Arab artifacts housed abroad cited state-of-the-art display capabilities and high- tech security and lighting systems at Western museums—advantages with which local museums simply cannot compete. The opponents of repatriation also argued that the restoration work being done in international museums is of higher quality, pointing to incorrect methods recently used to restore the Tutankhamun mask at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

A Sudanese student at Oxford University defended keeping artifacts abroad, asserting that officials in her own country do not care enough to adequately protect Sudanese artifacts and monuments—the majority of which have been smuggled out the country. Those supporting the repatriation of artifacts obtained in foreign counties during colonial rule was led by Hawass.

The former minister of antiquities noted that 70 percent of the artifacts on display at international museums left Egypt legally when the country observed a law that enabled foreign archaeological missions to divide artifacts from their discoveries with Egypt. He added that Egyptian artefacts were legally put on sale at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir until the issuing of law 117 in1983, which prohibited such activity... READ MORE

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