International law prevents recovery of Rosetta Stone from UK, Egypt's antiquities minister tells MPs

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 20 Nov 2017

Minister Khaled El-Enany said the UNESCO agreement which Egypt signed in 1970 does not help in recovering the Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone
In a question and answer session before parliament on Monday, Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said he regrets that the ministry has not so far been able to recover all Egyptian antiquities smuggled abroad.

"The UNESCO agreement which Egypt signed in 1970 stipulates that an ownership document is a prerequisite in order to be officially able to recover smuggled antiquities," said El-Enany, adding that "for this reason, we have not been able to recover the Rosetta Stone which was smuggled into England in the 19th century."

El-Enany, however, said that "Egypt was able to recover as many 1,100 antiquities from 20 countries across the world in 2016 and 2017."

"Some of these were recovered through bilateral negotiations and others through lawsuits," he said.

El-Enany deplored that "the smuggling and sale of Egyptian antiquities on world markets will not stop as long as Egypt does not have ownership documents of them."

"In England the sale of antiquities is a legalised practice and this also makes it difficult to recover our pieces there," said the minister, adding that "in 1983 Egypt decided to make sale of antiquities illegal, but this is just an Egyptian law."

He said some Egyptian antiquities smuggled into England were are always on show in exhibition halls there, with ownership documents of some pieces indicating that they were bought at EGP 2 per piece in 1932.

El-Enany said there are two kinds of Egyptian antiquities in Israel.

"While the first ones are the ones which were discovered in Israel itself as in old times the pharaohs occupied this land, the second are the ones which were smuggled from Sinai into Israel," said El-Enany, adding that "Egypt was able to recover many of its smuggled antiquities from Israel."

The minister revealed that a national committee including the ministries of antiquities, foreign affairs, the Administrative Control Authority, the National Security Apparatus and the Intelligence Agency was formed in order to step up efforts aimed at recovering smuggled Egyptian antiquities from abroad.

MP and high-profile writer Youssef El-Qaeed said the theft and smuggling of Egyptian antiquities has become a daily headline in local and international newspapers.

"The smuggling and theft of Egyptian antiquities have increased since the 25 January Revolution in 2011, and I think that Egypt has lost as much as 70 percent of its antiquities," said El-Qaeed.

In response, El-Enany said "it is too exaggerated to say that Egypt has lost 70 percent of its antiquities, but it is quite true that the ransacking of Egyptian antiquities has intensified since 25 January 2011."
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