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Egyptian antiquities conference will aid other restitution campaigns

A forthcoming conference [1] on cultural property organised by Egypt will hopefully help the cause of many other restitution campaigns across Africa & Asia.

Deutsche Presse Agentur [2]

Egypt to aid return of stolen Asian, African artifacts (Roundup)
By Shabtai Gold Dec 23, 2009, 15:34 GMT

Cairo – Egypt’s antiquities chief announced plans on Wednesday for a conference to help coordinate the strategy of African and Asian countries who had artifacts ‘stolen’ from them.

‘At the end of March we will hold a conference to meet with others who suffered like us from stolen artifacts and to discuss how to help all of us in efforts to return the stolen artifacts,’ said Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities.

In an interview with the German Press Agency dpa at his Cairo office, Hawass said that to date, Egypt had managed to recover some 5,000 items it claims were illegally removed from the country.

His most recent prizes are five 3,500-year-old paintings that were handed over last week to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by the Louvre Museum in Paris.

‘Our strategy is to return anything of which we have proof that it was stolen from Egypt,’ he explained.

Egypt is also said to be seeking specific items that, while not stolen per se, are of great importance. One such item is the Rosetta Stone, currently housed in the British Museum but discovered on Egyptian soil.

Hawass’ most recent battle has been with the Berlin museum that owns a 3,500-year-old limestone and plaster bust of Queen Nefertiti.

‘I would like the statue to come back to Egypt … It is part of Egypt. It belongs to Egypt more than it belongs to Germany,’ Hawass said.

Officials in Berlin have denied that the archaeologist who discovered the bust during a German-funded excavation in 1912 had deliberately misled the Egyptian antiquities inspectors.

Hawass, the most visible egyptologist in the country, received a doctorate in his field from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987 and was selected by Time Magazine in 2006 as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People.

His own discoveries include the Tombs of the Pyramid Builders at Giza. He also led a team in the examination of the mummy of Tutankhamun, better known in popular circles as King Tut.

Hawass adamantly rejected claims made against Egypt – home of the Sphinx and the Valley of the Kings – that it was not capable of caring for historic artifacts.

‘There is no country in world that is doing what we are doing for our monuments. We are restoring Pharaonic, Jewish, Coptic, Islamic and modern monuments in a way that has never happened in any country,’ Hawass said.

‘Our museums now, are actually better than other museums in the world, in terms of displays,’ Hawass claimed, as he signed a steady stream of documents carried in by a string of secretaries.

Egypt’s ever-busy relics czar, who was appointed to his post in 2002 and revamped the council by adding glitz and fervour to the job, says that neglect ‘could have happened in the past but not today.’

Known for his trademark wide-brimmed hat, jeans and corduroy, Hawass seems more Indiana Jones than government bureaucrat, and has become a television personality by appearing in numerous documentaries about the Pharaohs.

He insisted that, despite his dominant personality, progress made in recent years would not dissipate after his tenure.

‘I have trained good young people in many good things. Maybe they will not have the passion that I have but they will be excellent, maybe even better than me … This is not a one man show,’ he stressed.

‘Our strategy has become a good example to everyone…. China has announced they will do same as us,’ Hawass said.