Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reflections On Cultural Politics After Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan Revolts

A madman is still killing his people in Libya. Autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt have been deposed, but the democracy the people have died for remains elusive. Oddly, Western archaeologists seem more focused on trying to tie any looting of archaeological sites and stores to mysterious Western dealers and collectors than on criticizing the regimes whose policies have caused the societal unrest that unleashed any looting in the first place.

Anyway, here are some observations based on recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya:

1. Draconian cultural patrimony laws are natural expressions of authoritarian regimes;
2. Such laws are applied to common people and foreigners, but not to cronies of the regime;
3. Such systems also hide financial improprieties, i.e., skimming of public funds that should go to archaeological projects;
4. Educated elites are less likely to loot than the poor and uneducated;
5. Looting and vandalism can also be used by the authorities to try to justify their repressive measures;
6. Foreign archaeologists will not speak out against regimes that offer them excavation permits;
7. The prospect of jobs or funding can silence source country archaeologists from expressing their own concerns.

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