Monday 16 September 2013

Antiquities Left Nasser and Sadat's Egypt, Gifts of a Nation Grateful to the US

Arthur Houghton writes on Peter Tompa's blog:
"Peter when I served in Egypt in the 1960s and 1970s, it was routine for Egyptian officials to pour gifts on visiting dignitaries. They included shawabtis and papyrus fragments, and other artifacts that the Egyptian Museum did not want and could not handle, and were turned over in the hundreds to visitors from other countries. Of course these are not looted -- they were gifted by a grateful nation.
And of course as we know, when US officials serve in foreign countries it is routine for them to accept such gifts. Over here in Europe we can't do this, we call such "sweeteners" by their real name, "bribes" and "corruption", but as the Americans will tell you, these things only happens in foreign countries, "never in the USA". So having been, in gratitude for undisclosed favours, gifted antiquities as not-bribes by various officials in the regimes of Nasser and Sadat, Mr Houghton's pals did what with them? He seems to be suggesting that they assumed that the "nation" was so "grateful" that they were there among them, that they could keep them and then take them out of the country.

Well, let us turn from Arthur Houghton, observer in the past of the showering of visiting dignatories with "sweeteners" as the object of native gratitude, to today's Arthur Houghton as Director of the American Cultural Property Research Institute. One of the few things this currently rather moribund and redundant instituution has done is make some summaries of the legislation of use to collectors. If we turn to their section on 'Cultural Heritage Legislation in Egypt', we can see one or two problems with such an attitude. There is for example the law of 1912, forbidding export. Did "a grateful nation" issue an export licence for these "shawabti and papyrus fragment sweetners"?

Vignette: Leader of a nation grateful to US dignitaries...

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