Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Short Story: A Historic Agreement

The United States and Egypt signed a historic agreement this week aimed at thwarting the trafficking of antiquities, with artifacts being recovered from the US, Switzerland and the UAE, writes Nevine El-Aref.

For the first time, the United States has signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Egypt to impose restrictions on the importation of illicit antiquities into the US from Egypt. The MoU outlines the types of objects that require legal permits to enter the US and also involves law-enforcement training to assist in recognizing artifacts and antiquities that may be illegally smuggled into the country.

It was signed earlier this week in Washington by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and US Secretary of State John Kerry. Since 1983, the US has signed bilateral agreements with 16 countries, half of them in Central and South America. Egypt is the first Middle Eastern and North African country to sign such an agreement with the US.

According to the MoU, Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, supervisor of the Antiquities Repatriation Department at the Ministry of Culture, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the US government would have to return to Egypt any material on a designated list.

It would also need to use its best efforts to facilitate technical assistance in cultural resource management and security to Egypt under available programs particularly in the public and/or private sectors as well as inform the Egyptian government of all seized Egyptian artifacts once they enter American territory through diplomatic channels.

Abdel-Gawad said that Egypt should strengthen mechanisms to promote best practices in cultural resource management and should encourage coordination among the country’s cultural heritage, tourism, and religious authorities, as well as its development agencies, in order to ensure the enforcement of laws that protect heritage sites from encroachment, unsanctioned appropriation, looting, and damage.

Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany described the MoU as “very important” because it would help Egypt protect its priceless heritage and support the country in its fight against illicit antiquities trading and smuggling.

Within the framework of MoU, the Egyptian Embassy in Washington has already repatriated four artifacts that were stolen and illegally smuggled out of Egypt to the US. The objects date to the Late Pharaonic Period and include a mummified hand, a painted child sarcophagus, a gilded mummy mask, an anthropoid lid of a wooden sarcophagus decorated with different religious scenes, as well as a painted linen mummy shroud decorated with a collar.

These artifacts, Abdel-Gawad said, were seized as part of an extensive, five-year antiquities trafficking operation launched by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities named "Operation Mummy's Curse" in 2009. The mummy hand had arrived in a parcel at Los Angeles International Airport in January 2013 as a sci-fi movie prop. But officials noticed that the hand was part of an ancient Egyptian mummy, he said.

According to the National Geographic magazine’s website, investigations in Operation Mummy’s Curse were led by US Homeland Security Investigations and the ICE in 2008 when federal authorities were alerted to an artifact offered for sale by New York-based antiquities dealer Mousa Khouli.

“The artifact appeared identical to an object in the hands of a man in a photograph accompanying a 2003 article on the looting of the ancient site of Isin in Iraq,” the National Geographic wrote, adding that some 7,000 artifacts from countries including Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen were ultimately seized, along with more than $80,000 and a 9mm handgun.

“Four men were eventually indicted in the case, with antiquities dealer Khouli sentenced to six months home confinement, up to 200 hours of community service, one year of probation, and a $200 fine. A collector, Joseph Lewis II, had all charges dismissed following a 12-month deferred prosecution agreement with the government,” the Website said.

In April 2015, ICE handed over dozens of other artifacts to Egypt, including a nesting sarcophagus the agency had recovered from a garage .... READ MORE.

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