Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Jordanian MOU Backstory: A Window into How MOU's are Orchestrated

The US Embassy in Jordan has helpfully confirmed what many who have closely followed the process of creating MOU's "protecting" cultural heritage already knew, i.e., that the process is orchestrated in advance by the State Department itself with the help of archaeological advocacy groups.

Here is what the US Embassy in Jordan itself has said about the process:

The idea of holding an agreement to protect the Jordanian cultural heritage from smuggling had begun on the margins of the meeting of the second ministerial conference entitled “Heritage under Threat” which was held in Amman on September 8, 2016, and was organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Affairs, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Middle East Institute and the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), where the cultural section of the Embassy of the United States of America in Amman expressed the desire of the United States of America to conclude a bilateral agreement with the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan represented by the Department of Antiquities, with the aim of protecting Jordanian cultural heritage from smuggling.  Accordingly, many meetings were held with specialists from the US State Department, the US embassy, and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Antiquities, during which the broad lines were agreed upon to prepare a memorandum of understanding on preventing the import of Jordanian artifacts and recovering the artifacts from the United States and returning them to Jordan.  Workshops, lectures, and visits were organized for experts from the United States of America to introduce international agreements on preventing the trafficking of antiquities and protecting cultural heritage.  

In other words, despite what the Cultural Property Implementation Act contemplates, the decision to enter into a MOU does not actually depend on recommendations of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, but rather a Committee meeting merely provides an opportunity for public comment before a body that has also been dominated by members sympathetic to the views of the same advocacy groups involved in orchestrating MOU's in the first place.

No wonder no MOU request has ever been turned down.

1 comment:

Cultural Property Observer said...

Oddly, the cited press release fails to mention the involvement of the Antiquities Coalition, a well-funded and politically connected archaeological advocacy group. See Antiquities Coalition’s #CultureUnderThreat Conference, The Antiquities Coalition (September 12, 2016) available at (last visited Feb. 12, 2020). Recently, information has come to light that raises the question whether these advocacy efforts have been leveraged to benefit the Antiquities Coalition’s founder’s for profit business. See (last visited Feb. 12, 2020). Moreover, it should be noted that the Antiquities Coalition 990 for 2017 indicates that the Coalition has received U.S. Government funding to support State Department efforts to close the U.S. border to “illicit antiquities” from MENA countries. From various sources, it appears that that the Coalition maintains that any undocumented antiquity is also “illicit.” Therefore, in addition to advocating for the U.S. State Department imposition of import restrictions, the Coalition receives U.S. government funding for publicizing such import restrictions to the public.