Saving Antiquities for Everyone ("SAFE") and a number of its members have started a campaign of sorts against the recent appointment of Brent R. Benjamin of the Saint Louis Art Museum ("SLAM") to one of the two museum seats on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee ("CPAC"). See: http://safecorner.savingantiquities.org/ I initially covered Benjamin's appointment here: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/09/brent-r-benjamin-of-saint-louis-art.html
I think SAFE and its members are missing an important point. They claim Benjamin's appointment "sends the wrong message" because he has refused to bow to Egyptian demands for a funerary mask of a nineteenth dynasty noblewoman named Ka Nefer Nefer. Dr. Zahi Hawass, the publicity seeking Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, has laid claim to the mask with his usual bravado, complete with threats of legal action and even a call on “all schools in St. Louis to ban visiting the SLAM as it contains an Egyptian stolen piece.” See: http://www.egypttoday.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=6781
While it might be "politically correct" to roll over to such demands, the fact is that Benjamin and SLAM's Trustees have a fiduciary duty to the museum not to give up the piece without satisfactory proof that Egypt has proper title. In this regard, SLAM has asked Hawaas to document the claim further, something he has apparently failed to do. See: http://stlouis.art.museum/index.aspx?id=124&obj=144
Under the circumstances, Benjamin and SLAM are to be commended and not criticized for saying "No" to Pharaoh Hawaas and his authoritarian Egyptian government. This experience should help Benjamin discharge his duties on CPAC. CPAC members should base their recommendations on whether and to what extent to impose import restrictions on the application of the governing law to the facts. Under no circumstances should CPAC members bow to requests for import restrictions just because foreign cultural bureaucracies and their allies in the archaeological community and the State Department demand them as a matter of right.
Brent R. Benjamin and SLAM have shown some backbone in their dealings with Egypt. I for one appreciate President Bush appointing someone who can stand up to such bullying to this important post.