Tutankhamun relic sells for $6 mn in London despite Egyptian outcry

In this Thursday, March 31, 2016 file photo, an Egyptian guard walks out of King Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. (AP)
Updated 04 July 2019

Tutankhamun relic sells for $6 mn in London despite Egyptian outcry

  • Christie’s auction house sold the relic for £4,746,250
  • Angry Egyptian officials wanted Thursday’s sale halted and the treasure returned

LONDON: A 3,000-year-old quartzite head of Egyptian “Boy King” Tutankhamun was auctioned off for $6 million on Thursday in London despite an outcry from Cairo.
Christie’s auction house sold the 28.5-centimeter (11-inch) relic for £4,746,250 ($5,970,000, 5,290,000 euros) at one of its most controversial auctions in years.
No information about the buyer was disclosed.
The famous pharaoh’s finely-chiselled face — its calm eyes and puffed lips emoting a sense of eternal peace — came from the private Resandro Collection of ancient art that Christie’s last auctioned off 2016 for £3 million.
But angry Egyptian officials wanted Thursday’s sale halted and the treasure returned.
Christie’s decision “contradicts international agreements and conventions,” Egypt’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday..
Former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass told AFP that the piece appears to have been “stolen” in the 1970s from the Karnak Temple complex just north of Luxor.
“We think it left Egypt after 1970 because in that time other artefacts were stolen from Karnak Temple,” Hawass said.
Christie’s countered that Egypt had never before expressed the same level of concern about an item whose existence has been “well known and exhibited publicly” for many years.
“The object is not, and has not been, the subject of an investigation,” it said in a statement to AFP.
The auction house has published a chronology of how the relic changed hands between European art dealers over the past 50 years.
Its oldest attribution from 1973-74 places it in the collection of Prince Wilhelm of Thurn and Taxi in modern-day Germany.
Yet that account was called into doubt by a report from the Live Science news site last month suggesting that Wilhelm never owned the piece.
Wilhelm was “not a very art-interested person,” his niece Daria told the news site.
A journalist and art historian who knew Wilhelm told Live Science site that the prince had no arts collection at all.
Tutankhamun is thought to have become a pharaoh at the age of nine and to have died about 10 years later.
His rule would have probably passed without notice were it not for the 1922 discovery by Britain’s Howard Carter of his nearly intact tomb.
The lavish find revived interest in ancient Egypt and set the stage for subsequent battles over ownership of cultural masterpieces unearthed in colonial times.
Tutankhamun became commonly known as King Tut and made into the subject of popular songs and films.
International conventions and the British government’s own guidance restrict the sale of works that were known to have been stolen or illegally dug up.
The British Museum has been wrangling for decades with Greece over its remarkable room full of marble Parthenon friezes and sculptures.
Egypt’s own campaign to recover lost art gained momentum after numerous works went missing during the looting that accompanied former president Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power in 2011.
Cairo has managed to regain hundreds of looted and stolen artefacts by working with both auction houses and international cultural groups.
But Egypt has been unable to substantiate its case with firm proof that the Tutankhamun bust was illegally obtained.
Christie’s told AFP that it would “not sell any work where there isn’t clear title of ownership.”


Iran promises to avenge US killing of top Iranian commander Soleimani

Updated 03 January 2020

Iran promises to avenge US killing of top Iranian commander Soleimani

  • General Soleimani was killed in a US air strike in Baghdad on Friday
  • The US embassy in Baghdad urged all American citizens to depart Iraq immediately

BAGHDAD : Iran promised harsh revenge after a US airstrike in Baghdad on Friday killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds force and architect of its growing military influence in the Middle East.
Soleimani was a general who was regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The overnight attack, authorized by President Donald Trump, marked a dramatic escalation in a “shadow war” in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and its allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in the attack.

Iran has been locked in a long conflict with the United States that escalated sharply last week with an attack on the US embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian militiamen following a US air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.

The Pentagon said the “US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani” and that the strike was ordered by Trump to disrupt future Iranian attack plans.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Soleimani was killed in a drone strike. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said he was killed in an attack by US helicopters.

Concern about disruption to Middle East oil supplies pushed oil prices up nearly $3.

Khamenei said harsh revenge awaited the “criminals” who killed Soleimani. His death, though bitter, would double the motivation of the resistance against the United States and Israel, he said.

In a statement carried by state television, he called for three days of national mourning.

The US embassy in Baghdad urged all American citizens to depart Iraq immediately.

‘HEROES NEVER DIE’
Soleimani led the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards, and had a key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Over two decades he had been at the forefront of projecting the Islamic Republic’s military influence across the Middle East, acquiring celebrity status at home and abroad.

Iranian state television presenters wore black and broadcast footage of Soleimani peering through binoculars across a desert and greeting a soldier, and of Muhandis speaking to followers.

President Hassan Rouhani said the assassination would make Iran more decisive in resisting the United States, while the Revolutionary Guards said anti-US forces would exact revenge across the Muslim world.

Hundreds of Iranians marched toward Khamenei’s compound in central Tehran to convey their condolences.

“I am not a pro-regime person but I liked Soleimani. He was brave and he loved Iran, I am very sorry for our loss,” said housewife Mina Khosrozadeh in Tehran.

In Soleimani’s hometown, Kerman, people wearing black gathered in front of his father’s house, crying as they listened to a recitation of verses from the Qur'an.

“Heroes never die. It cannot be true. Qassem Soleimani will always be alive,” said Mohammad Reza Seraj, a high school teacher.

Trump, who is facing impeachment charges, made no immediate comment but posted a picture of the US flag on Twitter.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat and strong critic of the Republican president, said the attack was carried out without consultation with Congress and without authorization for the use of military force against Iran.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the killings as a violation of the conditions of the US military presence in Iraq and an act of aggression that breached Iraq’s sovereignty and would lead to war.
Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, who portrays himself as a nationalist rejecting both Iranian and US influence, ordered his followers to be ready to defend Iraq and urged all sides to behave wisely.

The Syrian government of President Bashar Assad condemned what it called criminal US aggression.

Israel has long regarded Soleimani as a major threat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Greece and Israeli Army Radio said the military had gone on heightened alert.

The slain commander’s Quds Force, along with paramilitary proxies from Lebanon’s Hezbollah to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces grouping of Iran-backed militias — battle-hardened militias armed with missiles — has ample means to respond.

In September, US officials blamed Iran for a missile and drone attack on oil installations of Saudi state energy giant Saudi Aramco.

Iran, for its part, has absorbed scores of airstrikes and missile attacks mainly carried out by Israel against its fighters and proxies in Syria and Iraq.

LEGENDARY FIGURE
Analysts say Iran is likely to respond forcefully to the targeting of Soleimani, who had survived several assassination attempts against him by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies over the past two decades.

The Quds Force, tasked with carrying out operations beyond Iran’s borders, shored up support for Syria’s President Bashar Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war raging since 2011 and also helped militiamen defeat Islamic State in Iraq.

Soleimani became head of the force in 1998, after which he quietly strengthened Iran’s ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria’s government and Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq.

Muhandis, who was killed with Soleimani, oversaw Iraq’s PMF, an alliance of paramilitary groups mostly comprising Iran-backed Shi’ite militias that was formally integrated into Iraqi armed forces.

His Kataib Hezbollah militia, which received battlefield training from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has long targeted US forces and was one of the earliest groups to send fighters to Syria to support Assad.