Wednesday 16 April 2014

Mafia Involvement in Egyptian Antiquities Trade

Peter Tompa is discomfited by Monica Hanna's statement ('Monica Hanna: The Arab Spring and the State of Egyptian Antiquities'), based on her own knowledge due to her work in heritage preservation in Egypt that:
20% of the looting [was due to] locals selling to antiquities dealers and 80% was attributable to “the Mafia.” [...] She said that the same networks that move drugs and guns move antiquities. [...] She also stated that there are direct channels to middle men in the United States.
After each of these statements, the "Cultural Property Observer" plaintively moans that she did not pass on her sources of information to him. Obviously, Mr Tompa wants to shut his own and everybody else's eyes and minds to such a possibility. Yet in his piclk-and-mix mental world, when it suits him, Mr Tompa is quite willing to accept and report that there are police chiefs in with the gangs who he does not want to believe are a significant force in antiquities smuggling. For Mr Tompa, ancient Egyptian antiquities are always "cleaner than clean". Like his shirts. Asked about private collecting, Hanna said she disapproves (as do most sensible and informed people who are not collectors) of private collectors who ignore the absence of proof that an object on sale has no documentation of collecting history defining their origins as licit. As Tompa puts it: "she does not think collectors should be able to “get away with” collecting unprovenanced artifacts. They are likely stolen". Mr Tompa cannot stomach that notion either:
CPO disagrees. Egyptian artifacts have been actively and legally collected since the 19th c. and Egypt itself has only had clear law vesting title in the State since 1983. Many Egyptian artifacts, particularly minor ones, have lost any information on how and where they were found over the years. CPO submits to assume they are “stolen” is both factually wrong and grossly unfair to law abiding collectors.
An assumption cannot be a 'fact' Mr Tompa, but then equally neither is an assumption that a paperless artefact is necessarily licit in origin a 'fact'. Given the uncertainty, and assuming a collector feels looting and financing smugglers (and thus probably organized crime) is the greater evil than a hopeful dealer can't get rid of an artefact he incautiously bought without properly verifying origins, a responsible collector will look beyond what he is merely constrained by the law to do and walk away from potentially dodgy goods. The mafia are no mafia if all they manage to get into the USA are three shabtis and a pocketful of scarabs. In order for organized crime to profit, they'll need to shift loads of stuff onto the international market, which means that loads of stuff on the international market must come from illicit sources. How can anyone "assume" (or even try to argue) other wise without looking utterly ridiculous?

There is nothing for it, Peter Tompa's going to have to go to Egypt, meet with Mr Kingsbury's "Mohammed" and the armed looters of Dashur and El Hibeh. In order to uphold his 'cleaner than clean' assumption, he obviously now needs to prove that there is no looting by a criminal element going on in Egypt today. Take a camera Mr Tompa. Ask some trade associations to put you in touch with some of the dealers who know who the "middlemen" are.

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