Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Time for the Antiquities to Return Home | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I recently travelled to London to give a lecture at the British Museum on my archaeological discoveries, and to host a book-signing event for my book ‘A Secret Voyage’ that has finally been published in English. This book deals with the experiences of my career [as an archaeologist] from my view on the beauty of the Pharaonic civilization, to [discussing] the Pharaonic view on love, religion, daily life, and festivals, and also includes stories about my latest discoveries in the Valley of the Kings.

This visit came a long time after my last visit to the British capital, and I told journalists and reporters from various media organizations that I had come to London to demand the return of the Rosetta Stone that is housed by the British Museum. The Rosetta Stone was part of an agreement concluded by the French with the British following the Battle of the Nile [also known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay]. The French fleet was defeated in this battle, forcing it to leave Egypt, which then fell under British influence.

One of the conditions of this treaty was the French surrendering all antiquities in their possession to the English, including the Rosetta Stone, which held the key to the secrets of the ancient Pharaonic civilization. The secrets of the hieroglyphics were later discovered by French scholar [Jean-François] Champollion, even though the Rosetta Stone itself was on display at the British Museum.

In truth, I had no desire to wade into this battle, but I told the media that Egypt is demanding the return of six individual antiquities, and that the real home of these artefacts is their native Egypt. These six antiquities are; the bust of Queen Nefertiti in Berlin’s Neues Museum, the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, the Dendera Zodiac at the Louvre in Paris, the statue of Great Pyramid architect Hemiun in Hildesheim’s Pelizaeus Museum, the bust of Prince Ankhhaf in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and the statue of King Ramses II in the Turin Museum.

In my opinion, these antiquities are incomparable icons of ancient Egyptian civilization, and so Egypt has the right to recover them, especially given the circumstances surrounding their removal from their native land. I am one of the most vocal opponents of those who say that these antiquities are the property of the country or the museum that they reside in because this is nothing more than one episode in a persistent series of thefts that have seen the antiquities of the Nile Valley being smuggled to rich countries that exploit either the financial or political conditions of a country that has an ancient cultural heritage, until the museums in these [rich] countries have become filled with our antiquities.

The time is ripe for the people of this great civilization to demand the return of their stolen antiquities. This is something that has received strong opposition from the trustees of foreign museums; in fact they have tried to incite public opinion against me by saying that I am calling for the return of all Egyptian antiquities. In truth, I [merely] hope for the return of each of the antiquities [mentioned above] to Egypt, and any antiquity stolen from Egypt following the 1970 UNESCO Convention [on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property].

I myself attempted to discover the intentions of these museums and expose them to public opinion. For this reason I said that we [the Egyptians] wish to display this artefact [the Rosetta Stone] for a period of three months following the grand opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum which is scheduled to open in five years. As for the bust of Nefertiti, we asked permission to display this at the grand opening of the Akhenaton museum, for of course Akhenaton was the beautiful Queen’s husband. However, the strange thing is that while some of these museums politely refused our request, such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that said that the bust of Prince Ankhhaff was too fragile to travel, and the Louvre Museum that indicated that it would be too difficult to remove the Zodiac from the ceiling [where it is displayed] and offered to loan another artefact in its place, the British Museum sent a message saying that it wished to know more about the security measures of the museum that would display the Rosetta Stone, and that this is something that is stipulated by English law…

This is a ridiculous response, because the Grand Egyptian Museum will be one of the most modern [and secure] museums in the world…and this response is one of the reasons that compelled us to insist upon the return of the Rosetta Stone to Egypt; this is our legitimate right, and the Rosetta Stone is part of ancient Egyptian civilization.