A conference in Egypt has called for the return of artefacts such as the Rosetta Stone, which is currently held in the British Msueum.
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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 12:10 GMT
Arabs want ancient artefacts back
A regional conference in Egypt has called on Western museums to return “stolen” Middle Eastern artefacts to their country of origin.
Lawyers taking part in the event said monuments such as the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum had been plundered and should be handed back.
Shaheen Abou-Alfoutouh, one of the Egyptian organisers, said the West should agree to protect human heritage.
He said he hoped citizens in the UK and Europe would support the campaign.
Mr Abou-Alfoutouh said lawyers across the Arab world had decided to join forces after seeing some of Iraq’s priceless Sumerian and Assyrian treasures being looted during the recent war.
The final statement from the conference urged all foreign governments to return Arab antiquities.
It said this applied in the first place to objects of particular symbolic significance, such as the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and the more than 3,000-year old bust of Queen Nefertiti, now in Berlin.
The Rosetta Stone was crucial in the early deciphering of hieroglyphics. It was found in Egypt by the French in 1799, but later fell into British hands.
“The way the Rosetta Stone was taken from Egypt by France was illegal, and the way it ended up in the British museum was also illegal,” said Mr Abou-Alfoutouh.
“We think it’s no less important than the three pyramids of Egypt or the Sphinx.”
He said he was optimistic the campaign would gain widespread support and would succeed.
“We think the British nation will support the wish of the people of Egypt,” he said.
An attempt by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities last year to borrow the Rosetta Stone for a local exhibition was rebuffed by the British Museum.
The conference called on Arab governments to use all available means to persuade the West to return ancient monuments.
Mr Abou-Alfoutouh said Egypt and other states should refuse to cooperate with Western archaeologists unless their governments complied.