Monday 27 February 2012

British "Smugglers" Return Home - Minus Their Tourist Souvenirs

Red faces all around it seems:
A British couple arrested in Egypt on suspicion of trying to smuggle priceless artifacts out of the country will return home tonight after it emerged that the objects had in fact been purchased at a local tourist bazaar. Michael Newey, 65, and his wife Angela, 62, were stopped at Luxor International Airport by officials trying to clamp down on the burgeoning illegal trade in looted antiquities. According to international news agency reports the couple, who are believed to have lived in Egypt for the past nine years, were carrying 19 objects in their luggage.[...] The seized pieces are now being prepared to be transported to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where they are due to be examined by a specialist committee. However it has emerged that the couple were released after it became clear that the objects were almost certainly cheap fakes purchased in the local market where convincing reproductions – often made in China – are openly on sale to tourists.[...] A spokesman for the Foreign Office in London said the couple were on their way home. “I can confirm the arrest of two British nationals at Luxor International Airport. They have been released and are travelling back to the UK,” he said. The arrests were announced by antiquities minister Dr Mohamed Ibrahim, and Hassan Rasmi, head of the central administration of ports.
It's almost as if the Egyptian authorities at the moment were doing their best to discourage tourists from coming to Egypt...

The photo accompanying the "Luxor Times" blog article is captioned "Captured (sic) +antiquities+at+Luxor+Airport+by+Luxor+Times.jpg", which seems to suggest it was taken at the airport by a Luxor Times reporter, but it seems in fact to be a stock photo created to illustrate the article. It shows 27+ artefacts not 19, the three lamps are not smashed, there is no pot with a face, no sixteenth century Bible. Where is this photo supposed to have come from? Certainly it does show - where the fuzzy details can be made out - some pretty obvious tourist fakes, as well as some items more ambiguous.

Let us note that the items Mr and Mrs Newey are reported to have been trying to export included a "sixteenth century Bible" and (according to Nevine El-Aref) "Coptic manuscripts" - it remains to be seen if that is true, and if so, whether they too were fakes or whether they are subject to Egyptian export legislation.

[A "sixteenth century English Bible" would be either bits of the Tyndale Bible, the Henrycian Great Bible or the Elizabethan Bishop's Bible of 1568, one wonders where copies of any of them would be knocking around in a Luxor secondhand bookshop- though there are lots of British ex-pats there, many of whom will have taken their libraries there].

Anyway the controversial pieces will soon be in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and 28-January-robbery-survivor Tarek Al-Awady and his staff will be telling us what they are, let's hope. Let us also hope that Dr Mohamed Ibrahim takes a few moments from his busy schedule to examine these items at first hand too and reflect on whether the whole affair should not have been handled a little differently. Would Zahi Hawass have claimed a shabti with Isis on the front mentioned in a report on his desk as national cultural heritage?

Source: Jonathan Brown, 'British couple released as priceless artifacts they were smuggling out of Egypt turn out to be cheap market fakes The Independent, February 27, 2012.


Dorothy King said...

It's a stupid story - but at least customs are trying, and I suspect that something about the couple made them suspect something was wrong.

In Morocco I tried it the other way around, and asked Customs if I could export some old bowls I had bought - I had no idea how old they were, nor the law. Customs was clueless and didn't understand why anyone would want chipped old crockery.

We can mock the Egyptians, but we'd be far more upset if people smuggled items and sold them without being stopped.

Best wishes, D

Paul Barford said...

Absolutely. You are of course right.

I too suspect it might not be a cut-and-dried case.

After all, almost every single tourist fake in Luxor is passing through either Luxor or Cairo airport, so you'd think the Customs would know their characteristics pretty well by now...

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.