Egypt's antiquities fall victim to political chaos

By Barbara Surk

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4 2013 6:25 a.m. MST

Even more detrimental, few if any of Egypt's precious antiquities are touring abroad.

A visit in October by a team of experts from the British Museum resulted only in words of hope for a renewed cooperation in the future and some training opportunities for Egyptian staff in London. Japanese exhibition organizers interested in a tour exhibit for objects from the King Tut collection left Egypt with no deal.

Such foreign tours were a lucrative revenue source, but virtually ground to a halt after Egypt's chief archaeologist during Mubarak's rule, Zahi Hawass, was forced to resign in 2011 on corruption allegations. Hawass denied the allegations, and he was not charged.

Last year, Morsi's government cut short a Cleopatra-themed exhibit on tour in the United States after a Cairo court ruled that some of its pieces are too unique to allow out of the country and had to return immediately.

Antiquities officials are now reluctant to sign any deals with exhibitions abroad for fear of being accused of corruption — or worse, of being unpatriotic for sending away Egypt's patrimony, amid the nationalist wave sweeping Egypt following the July coup.

The Cleopatra exhibit toured four U.S. cities, starting with Philadelphia's Franklin Institute in June 2010. It included artifacts ranging from tiny gold coins to a pair of towering eight-ton granite figures, raised by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio from submerged ruins off the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

Ordering it home lost Egypt millions of dollars, said Lotfi Gazy, the museum's antiquities affairs director.

Egypt was earning $450,000 dollars from each city the exhibit traveled to, plus $1 million for every 100,000 visitors and a 10 percent cut from merchandizing sales, Gazy said.

"It was a disaster for us," Gazy said. No new contract has been signed since then.

Follow Barbara Surk on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BarbaraSurkAP .

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