CAIRO: The U.S. State Department has approved Egypt’s request for a memorandum of understanding to impose import restrictions on smuggled Egyptian cultural property and antiquities into the country, according to the Antiquities Ministry’s Facebook page Tuesday.
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty stated the agreement would be signed in early 2015.
“The MoU is an attempt to curb Egypt’s cultural racketeering and will authorize the U.S.’s Customs and National Security Department to track and seize illegally smuggled artifacts along with taking legal procedures required to return them back to Egypt,” said Damaty.
Egypt’s political turmoil since the January 25 Revolution in 2011 and its consequent security lapses left much of the country’s cultural heritage vulnerable to looting. In spite of the efforts of the Egyptian government in tracking smuggled artifacts inside Egypt and in auction houses abroad, many items are unaccounted for.
Several undocumented antiquities have turned up for sale in Europe and the United States in art galleries and on internet auction sites.
Based on the article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, Egypt requested the U.S. government in April to implement import restrictions on Egyptian archaeological and ethnological materials.
On June 2, the U.S.’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) held a public session in consideration of Egypt’s request. The session was attended by members of the American Cultural Heritage Center along with other 11 presenters; eight spoke in support of the MoU, a ninth speaker found it redundant while two opposed the inclusion of coins.
Among the attendees was Dr. Monica Hanna, member of Egypt’s Heritage Task Force (EHTF), which launched a petition in May calling on the Obama administration to impose restrictions on the import and illicit trade of Egyptian antiquities in the United States.
“The petition is a part of a campaign initiated to tackle the catastrophic looting, pillage and smuggling of Egypt’s treasures since the January 25 Revolution,” Hanna told the Cairo Post previously.