By: Peter Herdrich, Vice Chairman of the ICPEA
Washington, DC – The Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities has signed a public-private partnership agreement with the U.S.-based International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities (ICPEA) to protect Egyptian cultural heritage sites and antiquities from looting and cultural racketeers.
At a signing ceremony on Monday, March 10 in Washington, DC, Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim and ICPEA Chairman Deborah Lehr were signatories to this historical agreement. Dr. Ibrahim said this initiative is the first public-private partnership ever undertaken by his Ministry and has been backed by The American Schools of Oriental Research since its beginnings. “The International Coalition, since its inception in March 2011, has shown great support and exerted utmost efforts to raise awareness and combat the looting and illegal trade of Egyptian antiquities and artifacts.”
“Egyptian antiquities and sites are among the most historically significant and important in the world. In times of political transition, ancient sites and artifacts are often targets of international crime and illicit activity,” said ICPEA Chairman Lehr. “We commend the Government of Egypt for its efforts, and are delighted to be working together to develop and implement short and long term solutions to ensure protection of Egypt’s invaluable cultural heritage.”
The story of ASOR’s role as a founding member of the Coalition and its contribution to the establishment and nurturing of the ICPEA was told in the January, 2014 issue of . Dr. Susan Ackerman, President of ASOR, was upbeat in greeting the news of the new partnership. “ASOR is extremely pleased to be part of the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities. We are committed to helping preserve Egypt’s rich cultural heritage, both on behalf of the Egyptian people and on behalf of all who treasure our ancient past. We’re extremely hopeful that this new public/private partnership will play a major role in serving Egypt’s needs, and we look forward to all the good that this effort will surely bring.”
At the signing ceremony at the Egyptian Embassy, Dr. Ibrahim talked widely about the latest in Egyptian archaeology and introduced himself. He is a field archaeologist and excavation director, having worked at Saqqara and Edfu. His success led to an offer to do his doctoral studies at the University of Lyon. “It was there that I really learned how to dig,” he said, recalling his work with his French teachers. His training also included museum management studies in the United States.
As an educator, Dr. Ibrahim has taught Egyptology as a Professor at Alexandria University and he was head of the Tourist Guide Department at Ain-Shams University. His work on the confluence of archaeology and tourism provides important context for the current challenges he faces, particularly the loss of tourism revenue for the Ministry, which he said was down 90 percent. Those fees come from admissions to museums and sites and make up the vast majority of the resources that fund Ministry activities. That shortfall underscores the critical need for a turn around in the Egyptian tourism economy to aid the Ministry and so many Egyptians who work in tourism related fields. Dr. Ibrahim vowed to fight to “protect an economy where tourism is so important.”
This critical economic challenge goes hand in hand with rallying support to fight cultural racketeering, the systematic theft of art and antiquities by organized crime syndicates. It is one of the world’s top crimes and has gotten progressively worse in Egypt since the 2011 Revolution. An ICPEA analysis of aerial imagery estimates that looting has increased by between 500 and 1000% since the Egyptian revolution.
The International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities’ Chairman Deborah Lehr vows support for these goals through the organization. “The activity will focus in three main areas, training, education, and social entrepreneurship. The intent is to provide Egyptians with the support and tools that they need to win this battle against cultural racketeering. ASOR is a critical partner in this effort.”
Minister Ibrahim has endorsed a first step in the ICPEA program, creating a pilot archiving project that will record what the objects are and where they reside in storage facilities. Much of the material excavated from sites in Egypt is uncatalogued in storage facilities. The plan is to create a digital archive of all excavated antiquities in Egypt.
The signing ceremony was capped with a reception and dinner in Minister Ibrahim’s honor and to celebrate the new partnership with the ICPEA. Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik hosted at his official residence. The guests included Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan, Congressman Mark Meadows, R-NC, who is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Under Secretary for Art, History, and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution, Richard Kurin, ICPEA’s Chairman Deborah Lehr, and Yasser Elnaggar, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Egyptian Embassy.
Minister Ibrahim used his visit to Washington, DC to pursue other avenues for protecting his country’s heritage, including a visit to the State Department to make his case. He stated, “We want to continue to have a closer cooperation with the United States in this area.”
There were other successes for the Minister in his effort to protect cultural heritage. “I would like to also outline that there are many artifacts that we have succeeded, in cooperation with the relevant American authorities, to detect, confiscate, and eventually return to Egypt,” the Minister reported. The most recently items include eight pieces, including ancient Egyptian coffins. “These items will be shipped soon from New York to Cairo.”
Minister Ibrahim also says he met with the representatives from eBay and the auction house Christie’s. “We have agreed that (eBay) will contact the Ministry of Antiquities to verify the authenticity and legality of any artifact before its listing on their website. EBay has agreed to delist more than 220 items at the request of the Egyptian authorities and through the Embassy of Egypt in Washington, DC. As for Christie’s, we agreed on working together to address all their activities in auctioning and selling Egyptian artifacts and antiquities.”
Mohamed Ibrahim is organizing on many fronts to do whatever he and his colleagues at the Egyptian Embassy can to fight looting and cultural racketeering. He welcomes help from ICPEA and its founding member, ASOR, and he has a message for supporters – and for those who want to get involved.
“Egypt’s future lies in its history,” said the Minister. “As Egypt is pursuing its quest for democracy, thieves are raiding our archaeological sites and selling their findings to the highest bidders. We appreciate the support and willingness of the ICPEA to stand with us in this fight. I sincerely hope that this agreement will inspire others to join us in this effort.”
Peter Herdrich is a consultant to business, government, and NGOs in the areas of preservation, coalition building, communications, and development. He is the Vice Chairman of the ICPEA.
For more information on the ICPEA, please email Katie Paul.
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