Egypt sues Israel to restore 126 smuggled artifacts
CAIRO: Egypt has taken legal actions to restore dozens of artifacts smuggled to Israel amid the rising illicit digging activities carried out in several Egyptian archaeological sites following the 2011 uprising, sources told Youm7.
The move comes after extended diplomatic talks, carried out between the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and officials from the Israeli government have failed, the source added.
“In order to return the smuggled artifacts, the Israeli government stipulated the reinstatement of Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, who was pulled in protest at Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip in November 2011,” according to the source.
Head of the Restored Antiquities Department (RAD) Ali Ahmad told The Cairo Post that there are 126 artifacts in question spanning several eras of Egypt’s Paranoiac history.
“These artifacts, including clay vessels, vases and figurines were monitored during a routine search of international auction halls periodically carried out by members of the RAD,” said Ahmed.
In November 2014, former Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim contacted the Interpol to “follow up with the responsible authorities in Jerusalem and to ask the Israeli authorities to conduct background checks on the proof of ownership and explain how it left Egypt as a prelude to reclaim,” AFP reported.
Based on UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv filed a lawsuit to restore the artifacts, the source said.
“The lawsuit in order to proceed, the Israeli court is expected to summon an antiquity expert from Egypt to rule on the authenticity of the mentioned,” the source said, adding the Egyptian government also has to prove “the artifacts are registered in the antiquities ministry’s archives and that they were stolen from archaeological sites, museums and the ministry’s storerooms.”
According to Ahmed, if an artifact was found on an e-commerce website or listed at an auction house abroad, the RAD contacts Interpol, the Egyptian tourism and antiquities police and the Foreign Ministry’s cultural relations department which, in its turn, informs Egypt’s embassy in the country where the artifact has been detected to stop the sale until it is proven the artifact left Egypt in a legal way.
“In order to stop the sale of an artifact, Interpol requires information including the laws of the country where the artifact was detected. Among required information is when and from where the artifact was allegedly stolen along with a full description of the registered artifacts,” according to Ahmed.
The artifact’s provenances (document that trace an artifact’s chain of ownership back to its excavation), is among the evidence required to prove Egypt’s legibility.
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.