Golden coffin stolen during 2011 revolution returned to Egypt

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Egypt's Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany (R) and Chargé d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo Thomas Goldberger (C) look at the Golden Coffin of Nedjemankh, on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo on October 1, 2019, following its repatriation from the US. (AFP)
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Egypt's Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany (L) and Chargé d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo Thomas Goldberger look at the Golden Coffin of Nedjemankh, on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo on October 1, 2019, following its repatriation from the US. (AFP)
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Egypt's Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany (3rd-R) and Chargé d'Affaires at the US Embassy in Cairo Thomas Goldberger (2nd-R) look at the Golden Coffin of Nedjemankh, on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo on October 1, 2019, following its repatriation from the US. (AFP)
Updated 02 October 2019

Golden coffin stolen during 2011 revolution returned to Egypt

  • The large decorated coffin dates back to the first century BC. It was excavated from Minya governorate in Upper Egypt, stolen by antique gangs eight years ago and then smuggled out of the country

CAIRO: Egyptian and American authorities have announced that the golden coffin of Egyptian priest Nedjemankh, which was stolen during the 2011 revolution, was this week returned to Egypt after it was fraudulently sold to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The large decorated coffin dates back to the first century BC. It was excavated from Minya governorate in Upper Egypt, stolen by antique gangs eight years ago and then smuggled out of the country. 

According to the Daily Mail, the Met purchased the coffin from a Paris art dealer in July 2017 for about $4 million. It came with bogus documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license. 

The museum believed that the art dealer, Christophe Kunicki, was acting in good faith and had a legal right to sell the coffin. 

As a result, the museum was deceived into believing that it could legitimately purchase the golden coffin. 

The object was placed on public display and soon became a major hit with visitors. It was not long before 500,000 people had been to see the coffin, which is in the shape of a mummy, is 2 meters long and is skillfully made from wood and metal, with a covering of sheets of gold.

Ahmed Fathy, a restoration official at Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, said that the Met was approached by the district attorney’s office in New York in February this year. 

It came forward with evidence indicating that the prized artifact was stolen as part of an international smuggling operation. After reviewing the evidence, the museum’s officials agreed to return the golden coffin to its rightful owners, the Egyptian people, and removed the item from public display.

Fathy said that the coffin was identified as stolen thanks to the efforts of the Antiquities Anti-Smuggling Unit, which is affiliated with the office of the district attorney in New York, and with the cooperation of officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Antiquities. 

The unit had previously succeeded in retrieving stolen Roman, Greek, Indian and Buddhist monuments and returned them to their countries of origin. He added that Egypt has become more determined to recover its monuments that have been stolen or illegally sold.

A press conference was held last week announcing the imminent repatriation of the coffin. 

It was attended by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, the New York district attorney and senior officials. 

Shoukry stated that the coffin “is not only for Egyptians but this is for our common human heritage.”

Investigations into the theft and illegal sale of the historic item are ongoing. 

The authorities have not indicated if they have identified any suspects. The Met is reportedly deeply angered by the incident and is reviewing how it acquires new items. The museum has also vowed to retrieve the money that it gave to the French art dealer for the stolen item.

An official at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News that the coffin will be displayed in the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which is due to open next year.

History researcher Abdel-Meguid Abdel-Aziz said that Nedjemankh’s coffin dates back to when Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty. 

Nedjemankh was a senior priest of the ram-god Heryshef of Herakleopolis (now the Ehnasia district in Beni Suef). The coffin no longer contains the mummy of the priest.

The coffin of Nedjemankh is elaborately decorated with scenes and hieroglyphic texts meant to guide the priest on his journey to eternal life. 

The gold symbolized the priest’s special relationship with the Egyptian gods. A unique feature of the coffin are the thin layers of silver inside the casket, possibly designed to protect the face of the priest during his journey to the afterlife.


Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

A Palestinian man facing Israeli soldiers waves a national flag during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, near the town of Tulkarm on June 5, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2020

Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

  • Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause

AMMAN: Leading Palestinian and Arab figures have used the 53rd anniversary of Naksa — the displacement and occupation of Arab territories that followed Israel’s victory in the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan — to highlight political mistakes made during and after the conflict.

Adnan Abu-Odeh, political adviser to Jordan's King Hussein and King Abdullah II, told Arab News that Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership had failed to understand the goals of Zionism.

“Governments that participated in the war were naive, expecting a repeat of the 1956 Sinai invasion when the US ordered an Israeli withdrawal. This was followed by the mistaken belief that we could liberate the land using guerrilla warfare," he said.

Anees Sweidan, director-general of foreign relations in the PLO, told Arab News that the Palestinian cause is undergoing a complicated phase where political opportunities are limited.

“The US bias towards Israel and absence of unity has put the Palestinian movement in a difficult situation. It is harder to generate external support and the financial crunch is causing much suffering despite the fact that we have made important accomplishments in the UN and Europe.”

Abdalqader Husseini, chairperson of the Faisal Husseini Foundation, said that the opportunities the anniversary offers should not be ignored.

“We need to realize that this is an illegal occupation that continues to dig deeper and escalate every day to the degree that the international community has lost interest and world conscience has become numb to Israeli practices. We in Jerusalem have not normalized with the occupiers and we have not accepted the new situation as an inescapable reality that we must accept.”

Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause.

“We went to Madrid with hope, the Palestinian leadership went to Oslo with optimism that they could reach a phased solution that would lead to statehood. As we remember this Naksa, we must revisit the path that has allowed the occupying entity to steal our land and cause havoc to our people without any deterrence from the international community," he said.

They (Palestinian youth) personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of PASSIA thinktank

Nibal Thawabteh, director of the Bir Zeit University’s Media Development Center, said the biggest mistake since 1967 was focusing on politics and avoiding community development.

"We don’t have a strong sense of citizenship, some have become accustomed to religious Islam. We need to work more on the citizenship.”

Ahmad Awad, director of the Amman-based Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, said there is a lack of acknowledgment of the reasons behind the Arab loss.

“Political, economic and cultural factors caused our loss, and we feel that most Arab countries have not learned this lesson. Instead of learning, we are going backwards, failing to defend their existential rights, shifting to isolationism as well as cultural and economic regression in our region."

Instead of looking backward, some Palestinians wanted to look forward.

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of the PASSIA thinktank in Jerusalem, said that Palestinian youth who never felt the shock of the 1967 defeat but have seen the exposure of Arab regimes in the face of the "deal of the century" will prevail.

“They personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Lily Habash, a Exeter University political science graduate, told Arab News that things look different on the ground.

“The world is changing and Israel uses geopolitical and regional changes to its advantage,” she said.

Dangers today encourage despair but Palestinians will be steadfast in the long term, she added.

“Some say we need a savior to get us out of this dilemma but I believe we need to trust in ourselves and work on all fronts.”