CAIRO: Egypt’s Heritage Task Force (EHTF) launched a petition calling on the Obama administration to impose restrictions on the import and illicit trade of Egyptian antiquities in the United States, according to an EHTF Saturday statement.
“The undersigned submit this petition in support of Egypt’s request for emergency import restrictions and a bilateral agreement pursuant to the United States’ Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, 19 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (CPIA), and the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property,” the petition reads.
EHTF in coordination with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) launched the campaign to tackle the “catastrophic” looting, pillage and smuggling of Egypt’s treasures since the January 25 Revolution, archeologist Monica Hanna, the initiator of the campaign, told the Cairo Post Saturday, adding that over 300 people signed the petition on its first day.
“The United States is considered one of the biggest markets for trade of antiquities. By pushing for such initiatives in different countries, we hope to cut down on the illicit trade of Egyptian antiquities,” Hanna said.
For many years, Hanna has been concerned to protect Egypt’s heritage through exposing the consistent looting of Egypt’s archaeological sites.
She was named as the 2014 winner of the Saving Antiquities For Everyone (SAFE) organization’s Beacon Award.
Several undocumented antiquities have turned up for sale in the United States in art galleries and on internet auction sites, including eBay which removed hundreds of items that were put up for bid.
A representative of the Egyptian government is slated to present Egypt’s official request on the matter, along with the petitions, during an urgent State Department hearing session scheduled to be held May 14, Youm7 reported.
Egypt’s political turmoil has led to a security lapse at archaeological sites and storerooms and museums nationwide, leaving Egypt’s treasures vulnerable to looting. The Egyptian museum and Malawi museum are among the sites that have been affected.
“The campaign represents a public demand, submitted by the Egyptian people, to protect their heritage and stop the illegal trade of antiquities by increasing site protection and searching for and recovering pieces looted domestically and internationally,” said Hanna, adding that customs officials in the U.S. have no authority to seize Egyptian artifacts unless they have specific information or strong suspicions that they were stolen.
In March, Minister of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim met with Evan Ryan, the State Department’s assistant secretary for education and cultural affairs, along with former U.S Ambassador to Cairo Anne Patterson to discuss adopting measures to counter the illicit trade of antiquities – measures that the United States can only take after a nation submits a complex formal proposal.
Ibrahim inaugurated on Saturday an exhibition at the Egyptian National Museum comprising 193 of Egypt’s looted treasures that have been recently repatriated from several countries.
“It is impossible to provide an exact number of the artifacts that have been stolen since the January 25 Revolution,” Head of the Museums Sector at the Ministry of Antiquities Ahmed Sharaf told The Cairo Post
“We are able to specify the artifacts looted from the museums and the storerooms as they are registered,” said Sharaf, adding that tomb robbers penetrated “several archaeological sites and used saws, bulldozers, shovels or simply their hands to cut parts of the tombs.”
The petition can be found on change.org.