Egypt grapples with smuggling of artifacts

There has been a rise in attempts to smuggle artifacts out of Egypt recently. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 February 2020

Egypt grapples with smuggling of artifacts

  • Egypt’s Law on the Protection of Antiquities stipulates 25 years in jail for those found guilty of smuggling artifacts
  • Anyone found guilty of smuggling an artifact outside Egypt could be fined between 1 million Egyptian pounds ($63,380) and 7 million

CAIRO: Last week’s foiling by police of an attempt to smuggle 269 artifacts out of Egypt was just the latest in a series of such incidents.
One such attempt that succeeded was in late 2018. Police in the Italian city of Naples said they had seized 23,700 smuggled artifacts, including 118 that were smuggled in a container from Egypt’s port city of Alexandria to the southern Italian port of Salerno.
At the time, Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, director general of the Egyptian Retrieved Artifacts Department, said the artifacts were stolen as a result of illegal excavations.
Investigations revealed that the perpetrator was Ladislav Otakar Skakal, Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor.
In January, an Egyptian court sentenced him to 30 years in absentia, since he had already left the country.
Egyptian authorities also found many artifacts in Skakal’s home in Cairo, as well as in a safe he was renting in a private bank.
At the same time, the Kuwaiti General Administration of Customs said it had seized a Pharaonic sarcophagus lid that was smuggled inside a sofa from Cairo airport.
In August 2018, the Antiquities Ministry said 32,638 artifacts had been lost in the last 50 years.
Egypt has retrieved 1,000 artifacts from 10 countries in the last three years, the ministry added.
Mohamed El-Kahlawy, head of the General Union of Arab Archaeologists, said the 2011 revolution in Egypt caused an unstable security situation that paved the way for more illegal excavations and thefts of artifacts.
From 2011 to 2014, Egypt lost $3 billion from the theft of artifacts from archaeological sites, museums and places of worship, according to the Washington-based group Alliance Archaeology.
“Christie’s auction house sells Egyptian antiquities in public,” said Egyptian artifacts expert Bassam El-Shammaa.
Researcher Monica Hanna said Egyptian monument warehouses are “full of unregistered artifacts that are being sold.”
Unregistered artifacts are impossible to retrieve. Egyptian artifacts can be purchased via online sites, including eBay.
Other sites display videos of Pharaonic tombs for those interested in taking part in excavation work. Such videos have hundreds of thousands of views.
Egypt’s Law on the Protection of Antiquities stipulates 25 years in jail for those found guilty of smuggling artifacts. There is no statute of limitations.
Anyone found guilty of smuggling an artifact outside Egypt could be fined between 1 million Egyptian pounds ($63,380) and 7 million.
The tools, equipment, machines and cars used in the process, as well as the stolen artifacts, are confiscated by the Supreme Council for Antiquities.
The law stipulates 10 years in jail for anyone who secretly carries out digging or hides an artifact or part of it with the intention of smuggling it.
It also stipulates imprisonment of between three and seven years, as well as a fine of no less than 500,000 Egyptian pounds, for destroying, deliberately damaging, mutilating or changing an artifact’s original features, and deliberately separating parts of a transferred or permanently placed monument.

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 21 February 2020

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”