Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Comment to CPAC

Today is the last day to comment to CPAC on the Egyptian MOU.  Please consider doing so if you have not done so already.  You can comment from here or follow the directions here.

Here is my own personal comment:

Dear Prof. Gerstenblith and Committee Members, 

I’m troubled that news reports have strongly suggested a MOU with Egypt is a “done deal” even before CPAC meets and what that says about our own government which is so fond of lecturing the Egyptians about “democracy” and “rule of law.” Nevertheless, if restrictions have been or will be approved, they should be limited to Pharaonic material of cultural significance and site specific material from later Hellenistic, Roman and Islamic cultures. Under no circumstances should there be restrictions on coins of the sort widely collected world-wide. 

There certainly has been looting in Egypt, as has been the case since ancient times. However, there is a real question whether there is an “emergency” of “crisis proportions” and, if so, if any “emergency” is of Egypt’s own making. During a recent public forum meant to publicize the need for import restrictions, Egyptologist Monica Hanna conceded that high ranking Egyptian government officials were intimately involved in illicit antiquities trafficking, that much damage is due to urban encroachment onto archaeological sites, and that common people don’t respect their past because they believe it belongs to Egypt’s abusive military dictatorship and not them. This, of course, is the real root of Egypt’s problems. Since prior military governments made the trade in all antiquities illegal, artifacts have been either illegally traded or devalued so much that they are either destroyed or dumped in landfills.

Frankly, Egypt is such a mess, restrictions won’t help there, but they will certainly damage small businesses and collectors who cannot come up with documentation necessary to import minor artifacts like coins that typically don’t carry any provenance information. So, CPAC should limit the damage as outlined above, i.e., only restrict artifacts from the Pharaonic period which are of cultural significance as well as site specific material, like Fayum mummies, from later Hellenistic, Roman and Islamic cultures. This later material was produced for empires that are part of the cultural heritage of the larger Western and Islamic worlds. There should be no blanket import restrictions on this material on behalf of Egypt. Coins should not be included because with a few minor exceptions they date from later periods and cannot usually be traced to a particular site. Moreover, there is no indication metal detectors are in widespread use in Egypt, so it is highly unlikely that many are being illicitly removed from the country. Certainly, there does not appear to have been a large influx of ancient “Egyptian coins” onto our shores since the Arab Spring degenerated into first Islamic and now military dictatorship. So, please target any restrictions so they don’t hurt collectors of artifacts as common and as widely collected here and abroad as coins. 

Thank you in advance for your interest in these matters. Please note I will also be commenting on behalf of client trade associations. [That comment can be found here.]


Peter Tompa

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