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What can be learnt from the Egyptian approach to restitution

Zahi Hawass [1] has championed the cause of cultural property restitution in Egypt in recent years. What can other countries learn from his approach?

From:
Afrikanet [2]

Written by Dr. Kwame Opoku
Friday, 17 October 2008
SHALL WE LEARN FROM ZAHI HAWASS ON HOW TO RECOVER STOLEN/LOOTED CULTURAL OBJECTS?

We may not all agree with Zahi Hawass in his style and manner of approach to the issue of restitution of stolen or looted artefacts but there is no denying that the famous Egyptologist, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, has been extremely effective in his tasks and knows his job. This is no mean feat in a period where some of those having the fate of millions in their hands do not seem to have mastered their jobs.

Under the dynamic leadership of Hawass, Egypt has recovered thousands of stolen/looted objects from Western European and American museums, galleries, auction houses and individuals. Some have described him as “pharaoh”, “charismatic”, “outspoken”, “shameless self-promoter” and “publicity seeking”. But how else could he have achieved his aims if he did not make public the fact that these stolen items are in respectable museums in the western world? He has confronted these venerable institutions – Louvre, Paris, British Museum, London, the Altes Museum, Berlin, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, St.Louis Art Museum, St.Louis and Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim, Germany – directly and brought to day-light the malpractices of many highly respected museums. Apparently, many museums hate daylight and do not want to inform the public about the provenance of their acquisitions. They do not seem to take seriously their obligation to enlighten the public. The publicity surrounding many of the interventions of the Egyptian scholar may no doubt be uncomfortable for many. He obviously does not rely solely on “quiet diplomacy” as some other Africans seem to prefer. The tremendous success of the Egyptian archaeologist may be a measure of the correctness of his methods.

My attention was drawn to an interview of Zahi Hawass on Al-Jazeera, July 2007 by a note in Looting Matters. In this interview, one can observe the directness and the methods of the formidable and dedicated archaeologist in action. Shall we learn from him?

Kwame Opoku, 16 October, 2008.