Gehad El-Rawi – the Supervisor of the International Organisations for Cultural Heritage and International Cooperation Department at Egypt’s antiquities ministry – said that the election of Egypt to chair the UNESCO subsidiary committee for countering illicit trafficking of antiquities reflects appreciation for the latest efforts exerted by Egypt to recover its stolen antiquities.
Egypt was elected on Friday as the first Arab country to chair the UNESCO committee. The country will chair the committee from May 2018 to May 2019.
The committee was created in 1970 under UNESCO's Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Over 130 countries have since signed the treaty.
The subsidiary committee of the convention was created in 2013 and has 18 members, each elected to lead for a four-year term.
Having nearly one-third of the world's antiquities, Egypt has for decades suffered illicit excavation of archaeological sites and the smuggling of artefacts outside the country.
Illicit excavation and artefact smuggling increased significantly after the 2011 uprising.
Earlier this year, Egypt said it had recovered nearly 1,000 antiquities that were smuggled to Switzerland, the UAE, Italy, the USA, Belgium, Mexico and Austria.
Most recently, the Italian Antiquities and Tourism Police informed the Egyptian embassy in Rome on 14 March that they had seized in Naples 23,700 artefacts, including 118 ancient Egyptian items.
Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, the head of the Egyptian antiquities ministry’s repatriation department, said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported the incident to the Ministry of Antiquities, which assigned a special archaeological committee to confirm the authenticity of the seized artefacts by examining their photos.
Abdel-Gawad said that the objects were stolen from illegal excavation sites, as there is no record of them existing in any Egyptian museum or store gallery.