Friday, June 10, 2011

Egypt: No "Emergency" After All, Just More Exaggeration

Less than a month after Egyptian Antiquities Pharaoh Zahi Hawass suggested on his blog that archaeo-lobbyists of the "Capitol Archaeological Institute" had been given agreement authority by the US State Department to draft a MOU imposing "emergency import restrictions" on Egyptian cultural goods, see, Hawass has blogged that there really is no "emergency" in Egypt after all. See

Hawass now states, " I have been distressed by recent reports that exaggerate the damage done to our antiquities...."

And so am I, but for different reasons.

This again just goes to show that archaeologists are simply not credible sources when it comes to reports of looting in countries where the facts are difficult to verify. Archaeologists have previously exaggerated looting in places like Afghanistan and Iraq to justify emergency import restrictions. Here, they have apparently done so again-- this despite Minister Hawass' own view that the situation is under control.

Emergency import restrictions are unnecessary here. Egyptian and US authorities are well able to interdict looted artifacts.

But archaeological fanatics want more: they see import restrictions as a way to drive unprovenanced artifacts off the market in the United States, at least.

And ginning up an "emergency" is their best way to assist their cronies in the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center to get the job done. Based on their exaggerations, yet another collecting area will likely become off limits to all those but the wealthy who can afford to purchase the limited number of artifacts with detailed collecting histories.

1 comment:

Cultural Property Observer said...

Attorney Bill Pearlstein had these comments, which he suggested I post:

So Peter, my bet is that there will be a request for emergency import restrictions regardless of Zawi's statement that no emergency exists.

You are correct to say that, in light of facts on the ground in Egypt, existing remedies under US criminal and customs law are sufficient to allow US authorities to interdict any looted materials that enter the US.

You may recall that when I made the same argument at the Italian renewal hearing last May, Patty G. (batting in her customary clean-up spot) testified that I was "blowing smoke" at the Committee, and import restrictions were absolutely necessary so that authorities wouldn't have to "prove" wrongdoing. The Professor from Carleton chimed in about minimal value thresholds under the NSPA that don't apply to materials restricted under the CPIA.

Needless to say, the doctrine of civil forfeiture has dispensed with the need to show anything other than the barest scintilla of "probable cause" (which I call "improbable cause"), and Customs does not seem to be constrained at all from seizing objects of even minimal value. Nevertheless, the archeological lobby persists in deriding the deterrent effect of US and criminal and customs laws on prospective US importers. As if the prospect of jail is somehow less frightening than losing a few bucks of trinkets (think Ban Chiang). It's yet another demonstration of how completely out of touch they are with reality and how utterly ignorant they are of the workings of the market. They exist in a strange private nether world, devoid of sun, light and air, fencing against shadows on the wall.

If anyone is blowing smoke it's Patty G and her chorus at AIA. The only question is which end it's coming from.

My best to all from the Big Apple.

William G. Pearlstein