Saturday 26 February 2011

Mubarak the Smuggler?

Nevine El-Aref, No case to answer. Al-Ahram Weekly 24 Feb-3march 2011

The newspaper Al-Wafd has published an article accusing Zahi Hawass of smuggling ancient antiquities abroad on behalf of the family of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Hawass says the claims are foundationless and has asked the country’s Procurator-General to investigate.

The source of the allegations is disgruntled SCA employee archaeologist Nour Abdel Samad. His reliability as a source is however questionable. Since he was employed in 1987, he has apparently written frequent complaints and filed various lawsuits against colleagues and others. According to Al-Ahram has also faced a number of disciplinary actions in recent years. One of the affairs he has been associated with was the disappearance of a gold earring from an excavation carried out with the Polish Mission at the Marina archaeological site. He claimed the object went missing while under his charge when rats ate their way through a wooden storage box in which the object had been kept, he was brought before a disciplinary court in 2004. The matter of responsibility for the rats’ actions has yet to be resolved.

Samad has also accused Hawass of “enabling a group of Zionists and suspect Jewish Zionist organizations such as National Geographic to enter the Egyptian Museum eight years ago and mishandle ancient Egyptian mummies”
It is interesting to speculate what kind of antiquities the Mubarak family are accused by Samad of smuggling. Would they be a few top-dollar pieces destined for the prestigious auction houses, or would they be bulk shipments of more ‘minor’ artifacts such as shabtis and scarabs easier to slip onto a no-questions-asked market? I bet Samad has just about as much possibility of demonstrating the existence of such transactions from ‘the bottom up’ in the source country as we would have in the market countries searching (‘from the top down’) for the origins of material coming freshly onto the market. The utter lack of transparency of the antiquities market would hinder such attempts. It is very difficult for collectors to avoid buying potentially stolen artifacts in such conditions. Which is why I guess so few even try with any conviction.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Isn't this a bit of a diversion from the more serious allegation that funds have been skimmed from monies that were supposed to support archaeological projects? Given the millions received in foreign aid and payments for TV programs and shows and the like, these amounts could very well be significant. Looks like Hawass has bought off most of his domestic critics with promises of new jobs, but something this serious should not be swept under the rug.

Paul Barford said...

I dont think it a diversion at all. Why do you not assemble all the actual evidence about this "corruption" and misuse of sacred US funds and present them to the Department of Justice and get him extradited to the US and shut up somewhere in the same placer you've got that Bradley Manning for few months to get him to say where the money went? Actually I think it would turn out if anyone's counting that over the years, the US gave far more money and help in kind to support the Egyptian military and repressive security services than they ever did in direct help for Egyptian archaeology - though I would be glad (indeed) to be shown to be wrong there.

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