The Antiquities Coalition strongly supports the request of the Egyptian government for the United States to provide additional protections against the import of illicit Egyptian antiquities. We urge the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the State Department to make a swift determination based on the clear evidence that Egypt meets the necessary criteria for accepting such a request, as well as the dire situation Egypt is facing in protecting its antiquities during its time of political transition.

On June 2, The Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the U.S. State Department held a public hearing to consider the Egyptian government’s request for a bilateral Cultural Heritage memorandum of understanding (MOU). The Egyptian government requested this MOU to help in its battle against the rise of cultural racketeering – the systematic looting of antiquities by organized crime – since the January 2011. If the Advisory Committee recommends that State accept Egypt’s request, State can direct the US Customs to halt the import of Egyptian antiquities without the proper documentation.

Photo Credit: AP

Monica Hanna, founder of the Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, traveled from Cairo to voice her support for this important initiative. Her photos and personal account of the rapid and significant looting of sites across Egypt tell a tale of immense crisis. Sarah Parcak, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama/Birmingham, shared that looting has increased at major archaeological sites by 500-1000% based on her analysis of satellite imagery done in association with the Antiquities And Brian Daniels, Director of Research and Programs at the University of Pennsylvania’s Cultural Heritage Center, commented on the work of the Egyptian government in fighting against cultural racketeering. Dr. Daniels addressed the fact that the 12,000 guards hired to protect sites by the Egyptian government is not an insignificant number and emphasized that event during the periods of turmoil Egypt the Egyptian government has sent guards and police resources to protect sites.

Opposition to the MOU came primarily from Numismatists.  Representatives of the industry did not disagree with the basic requests of the Egyptian government, but strongly opposed the including of coins as part of the MOU. They allege that it is difficult to ensure that “small antiquities” including coins have the appropriate paperwork to ensure that they were obtained legitimately.  Lack of paperwork complicates or even blocks the import of these antiquities.

Speakers in favor of MoU for import restrictions on illicit antiquities. Left to Right: Douglas Boin; Sarah Parcak; Elizabeth Varner; Monica Hanna; Brian Daniels (Photo Credit: Katie Paul, The Antiquities Coalition)

We look to Secretary Kerry to be a modern day “Monuments Men” in taking seriously the crime of cultural racketeering, starting with the rapid conclusion of a strong and meaningful cultural heritage MOU with Egypt.  Conclusion of this agreement will provide a foundation for cooperation in protecting our common heritage. But more important, it signifies that the United States is prepared to take a leadership role in actively supporting countries across the globe – Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Peru, Guatemala, China, Cambodia and many more – in their fight to protect our common heritage.  Cultural racketeering is a global crisis that requires a global solution. It provides an opportunity to build on the United States’ legacy from WWII and continue fight against those attempting to erase our past to eradicate our future.

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) of the US Department of State is chaired by Prof. Patty Gerstenblith of the DePaul College of Law, and consists of members representing museums, archaeology, the international sale of cultural property, and the general public.

Full list of Speakers at Egypt MoU Public Hearing on June 2, 2014 

In favor of MoU: 

Dr. David O’Connor, Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Ancient Egyptian Art, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University – at hearing to represent American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE)

Dr. Laurel Bestock, Vartan Gregorian Assistant Professor of Archaeology and the Ancient World and Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies – at hearing to represent American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE)

Dr. Douglas Boin, Assistant Professor, St. Louis University Art History Department

Elizabeth Varner, President-Elect, Board of Directors, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, Executive Director, National Art Museum of Sport – at hearing to represent Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP)

Dr. Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, Ancient Coins Curator, Harvard Art Museums

Dr. Monica Hanna, Egyptologist, American University of Cairo; Founder of Egypt’s Heritage Task Force
**NOTE: Dr. Hanna was the only Egyptian on the panel during the public hearing and provided a significant amount of on-the-ground photo evidence (much of this can be found online at Egypt’s Heritage Task Force) 

Dr. Sarah Parcak, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; Society for American Archaeology; The Antiquities Coalition and International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities ‘ICPEA’ – at hearing to represent Society for American Archaeology (SAA) and The Antiquities Coalition

Dr. Brian Daniels, Director of Research and Programs, Penn Cultural Heritage Center and Society for American Archaeology – at hearing to represent Penn Cultural Heritage Center and Society for American Archeology (SAA)

Opposed to MoU: 

Alan Safani, Art Dealer, International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA)
**NOTE: Mr. Safani publicly supports the MoU but only in the case of newly surfaced illicit materials from Egypt 

Peter Tompa, Lobbyist, International Association of Professional Numismatists (“IAPN”) and the Professional Numismatists Guild – at hearing to represent International Association of Professional Numismatists (“IAPN”)

Mr. Wayne Sayles, Founder, Ancient Coin Collectors Guild – at hearing to represent Ancient Coin Collectors Guild