Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Prejudgment and Fraud?

Egyptian sources are reporting that  a MOU will be signed in early 2015 authorizing import restrictions on Egyptian cultural artifacts.   Troublingly, once again Egyptian authorities have suggested the whole matter was a "done deal"even before the Cultural Property Advisory Committee met on June 2, 2014.

According to the report,

"This step comes eight months (March to November) after a memorandum of understanding between Egypt and the United States, in order to protect Egyptian antiquities and combat smuggling of artefacts."

Yet more evidence, if any is needed, that MOUs are prejudged and that proceedings before CPAC are little more than a farce?

Egypt is now ruled by a military dictatorship which just ran a sham election that anointed General Sissi as Egyptian president.  So, it should be no surprise that these kinds of shenanigans are standard operating procedure in that unhappy country.

However, we can and should expect far more from our own State Department and its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Cultural Heritage Center.  Instead of sinking to the level of the Egyptian military dictatorship and its nationalistic cultural bureaucracy, our State Department-- which is so fond of lecturing others about the merits of  "Democracy" --should be providing our Egyptian friends with an example of what the rule of law actually means.

There is a well-founded perception in the collecting community and among the small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade that the Cultural Heritage Center is little more than a bureaucratic dictatorship in the service of the archaeological lobby and its crusade against collecting.   This latest revelation as well as news that a State Department Cultural Heritage Center contractor faked the claim that stolen antiquities are ISIS' most important funding source after "hot oil" will only add to this perception as will news that the archaeological lobby is asking Congress to give the State Department unlimited authority to enrich itself through a permanent grant program.  No wonder trust in government is at an all time low.

There is no doubt some in the archaeological community who are uncomfortable with the view that the ends justifies the means.  Hopefully, they too will raise concerns about how the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center operates.  Public confidence and the long-term viability of the State Department program may well depend upon it.

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