Enhanced agreement between US and Egypt to prevent antiquities trafficking

Enhanced agreement between US and Egypt to prevent antiquities trafficking
Artifacts taken from Egyptian antiquity sites are trafficked through Europe and the Gulf. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Enhanced agreement between US and Egypt to prevent antiquities trafficking

Enhanced agreement between US and Egypt to prevent antiquities trafficking
  • The new memorandum of understanding replaces and strengthens a 2016 deal that was the first of its kind in the region.

CHICAGO: US State Department officials said on Thursday they have signed a new and tougher Memorandum of Understanding with Egypt’s government to protect Egyptian cultural artifacts from looting, theft and trafficking.

During a briefing attended by Arab News, the officials said the MoU replaces and strengthens a 2016 agreement between the countries, which was the first of its kind in the region.

Artifacts taken from Egyptian antiquity sites are trafficked through Europe and the Gulf, and there was a surge in cases in the aftermath of protests during the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. The US is a major market for such stolen items, according to the State Department.

“For the looting, theft and trafficking of Egyptian cultural property it continues to be an issue,” a State Department official said in response to a question from Arab News. “We certainly saw a large uptick in 2011, when there were many disruptions in the country. Thankfully we see a lower level (now) than in 2011 but the problem remains.

“In terms of trafficking routes, they remain the same. We see a lot of movement through Europe and then on to the United States. The United States remains the largest art market, in general, in the world, so we continue to be a destination for this type of material. We also see trafficking through the Gulf States areas, which is also a concern.”

The officials said damage caused to archaeological sites, places of worship and museums around the time of the 2011 protests was extensive, and cultural-heritage artifacts were then under constant threat of plunder.

A number of valuable objects were subsequently recovered from museums and art collectors in the US. In 2019, for example, the Justice Department ordered the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, known as the Met, to return a prized item from its collection of Egyptian antiquities after confirming it had been stolen.

The looted item, a gilded coffin that once held the remains of a high-ranking priest named Nedjemankh, is estimated to be about 2,100 years old. It was returned to Egypt following a repatriation ceremony in New York attended by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry.

The coffin, crafted in Egypt between 150 and 50 B.C. and valued at about $4 million, was stolen from Egypt’s Minya region after the 2011 protests and smuggled out of the country, according to a State Department announcement on Oct. 23, 2019.

The Met bought it in 2017. According to the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, New York prosecutors said the dealer provided unsuspecting museum officials with forged documents that made the sale appear legitimate.

Once presented with evidence proving it had been stolen, the Met cooperated with the district attorney’s office and returned the coffin, which is now on public display in Egypt.

The new MoU expands the categories of protected objects and artifacts to including “ethnological materials.” The agreement will be policed by authorities that includes a crime task force staffed by agents from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, officials said. The US has similar agreements with 20 other countries including Libya, Algeria, Jordan and Morocco they added.

The new MoU also includes a legal process for Egyptian authorities to loan artifacts to US museums and special, temporary exhibitions.


US vice president Kamala Harris, officials heading to UAE to pay respects

US vice president Kamala Harris, officials heading to UAE to pay respects
Updated 5 sec ago

US vice president Kamala Harris, officials heading to UAE to pay respects

US vice president Kamala Harris, officials heading to UAE to pay respects
  • Trip is the highest-level visit by Biden administration officials to oil-rich Abu Dhabi
DUBAI: A high-powered American delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris flew to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to pay respects to the federation’s late ruler and meet with the newly ascended president.
The trip is the highest-level visit by Biden administration officials to oil-rich Abu Dhabi, intended to be a potent show of support as the US administration tries to repair troubled relations with its partner.
The delegation includes Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and climate envoy John Kerry, among others.
The UAE named the Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan its new president following the death of his half-brother last Friday.
Underscoring Abu Dhabi’s great influence in Western and Arab capitals, an array of presidents and prime ministers descended on the desert sheikhdom over the weekend to honor the late Sheikh Khalifa, praise Sheikh Mohamed and solidify ties. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were the first European leaders to jet to the UAE capital.
Before heading to Abu Dhabi, Harris said she was traveling on behalf of President Joe Biden to offer condolences on the death of the long-ailing Sheikh Khalifa and to shore up America’s crucial relationship with the UAE.
“The United States takes quite seriously the strength of our relationship and partnership with the UAE,” Harris told reporters. “We are going there then to express our condolences but also as an expression of our commitment to the strength of that relationship.”
Blinken was first to touch down in Abu Dhabi before talks with his Emirati counterpart. It was widely expected officials would address the UAE’s long-simmering frustrations about American security protection in the region as well as tensions that have emerged between the countries over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
UAE is a key Russian trading partner and member of the so-called OPEC+ agreement, of which Russia is an important member.
After taking office, Biden lifted a terrorist designation on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels that have fired missiles and drones at the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and is trying to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers — an accord that Gulf Arab states fear could embolden Iran and its proxies.
America’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and its long-term foreign policy goal of pivoting away from the Mideast and toward China has added to Gulf Arab concerns.

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa
The first commercial flight in nearly six years took off from Yemen’s Houthi-held capital. (File/Reuters)
Updated 43 min 25 sec ago

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa
  • The Yemenia plane carrying 126 passengers, including hospital patients needing treatment abroad and their relatives

SANAA: The first commercial flight in nearly six years took off from Yemen’s Houthi-held capital on Monday, a major step forward in a peace process that has provided rare relief from conflict.
The Yemenia plane carrying 126 passengers, including hospital patients needing treatment abroad and their relatives, took off from Sanaa for the Jordanian capital Amman just after 9:00 am (0600 GMT), AFP journalists saw.
Before take-off, the plane was taxied through an honor guard of two fire trucks spraying jets of water.

 


Sanaa’s airport has been closed to commercial traffic since August 2016.

Flights cancelled after dust storm hits Iraq

Flights cancelled after dust storm hits Iraq
Flights at Baghad International Airport were cancelled after an intense dust storm hit Iraq.  (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2022

Flights cancelled after dust storm hits Iraq

Flights cancelled after dust storm hits Iraq
  • Flights were disrupted at Baghdad International Airport

Flights at Baghad International Airport were cancelled after an intense dust storm hit Iraq.

Videos circulating online showed a yellow hue eveloping the Iraqi capital city, impeeding vision and distrupting flights. 


Lebanon vote brings blow for Hezbollah allies in preliminary results

Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2022

Lebanon vote brings blow for Hezbollah allies in preliminary results

Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
  • Initial results indicated wins for at least five other independents who have campaigned on a platform of reform and bringing to account politicians blamed for steering Lebanon into the worst crisis since its 1975-90 civil war

BEIRUT: Iran-backed Hezbollah has been dealt a blow in Lebanon’s parliamentary election with preliminary results showing losses for some of its oldest allies and the Lebanese Forces party saying it had gained seats.
With votes still being counted, the final make-up of the 128-member parliament has yet to emerge. The heavily armed Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and its allies won a majority of 71 seats when Lebanon last voted in 2018.
The current election is the first since Lebanon’s devastating economic meltdown blamed by the World Bank on ruling politicians after a huge port explosion in 2020 that shattered Beirut.
One of the most startling upsets saw Hezbollah-allied Druze politician Talal Arslan, scion of one of Lebanon’s oldest political dynasties who was first elected in 1992, lose his seat to Mark Daou, a newcomer running on a reform agenda, according to the latter’s campaign manager and a Hezbollah official.
Initial results also indicated wins for at least five other independents who have campaigned on a platform of reform and bringing to account politicians blamed for steering Lebanon into the worst crisis since its 1975-90 civil war.
Whether Hezbollah and its allies can cling on to a majority hinges on results not yet finalized, including those in Sunni Muslim seats contested by allies and opponents of the Shiite movement.
Gains reported by the Lebanese Forces (LF), which is vehemently opposed to Hezbollah, mean it would overtake the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) as the biggest Christian party in parliament.
The LF won at least 20 seats, up from 15 in 2018, said the head of its press office, Antoinette Geagea.
The FPM had won up to 16 seats, down from 18 in 2018, Sayed Younes, the head of its electoral machine, told Reuters.
The FPM has been the biggest Christian party in parliament since its founder, President Michel Aoun, returned from exile in 2005 in France. Aoun and LF leader Samir Geagea were civil war adversaries.
The LF, established as a militia during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, has repeatedly called for Hezbollah to give up its arsenal.

“A NEW BEGINNING“
An opposition candidate also made a breakthrough in an area of southern Lebanon dominated by Hezbollah.
Elias Jradi, an eye doctor, won an Orthodox Christian seat previously held by Assaad Hardan of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, a close Hezbollah ally and MP since 1992, two Hezbollah officials said.
“It’s a new beginning for the south and for Lebanon as a whole,” Jradi told Reuters.
Nadim Houry, executive director of Arab Reform Initiative, said the results of 14 or 15 seats would determine the majority.
“You are going to have two blocs opposed to each other — on the one hand Hezbollah and its allies, and on the other the Lebanese Forces and its allies, and in the middle these new voices that will enter,” he said.
“This is a clear loss for the FPM. They maintain a bloc but they lost a lot of seats and the biggest beneficiary is the Lebanese Forces. Samir Geagea has emerged as the new Christian strongman.”
The next parliament must nominate a prime minister to form a cabinet, in a process that can take months. Any delay would hold up reforms to tackle the crisis and unlock support from the International Monetary Fund and donor nations.


Nakba memories and resistance: The right of return remains in refugee diaries

Nakba memories and resistance: The right of return remains in refugee diaries
Updated 16 May 2022

Nakba memories and resistance: The right of return remains in refugee diaries

Nakba memories and resistance: The right of return remains in refugee diaries
  • Palestinian cause ‘alive and growing’ in Gaza camps, researcher says

RAFAH, GAZA STRIP: Abu Ahmed Adwan was five when his family was forcibly displaced during the Nakba in 1948. They sought refuge in a camp in the city of Rafah, adjacent to the Palestinian-Egyptian border in the far south of the Gaza Strip.

Adwan grew up in the alleys of the Barbara camp, which got its name from the original village that was abandoned by the Adwan family and other families that settled together.

“We were neighbors in Barbara before the Nakba, and here we are in the camp until the return,” Adwan, now in his late 70s, told Arab News.

Today he is the mayor of his village (the chief of the refugee families from the village of Barbara), and despite spending his life as a refugee, he still believes in the right of return.

“We will return one day, and if we pass away, our children and grandchildren will return and rebuild the country.”

Estimates by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees show that the number of refugees in the Rafah camp grew from 41,000 in 1948 to more than 125,000 today. Residents in one of the largest camps in the Gaza Strip live in overcrowded houses in narrow streets. In Gaza, refugees represent more than 70 percent of the population of almost two million people.

Adwan uses a large map of the village of Barbara, which tops one of the walls of his meeting hall in his home, to describe the village he visited for the last time about 35 years ago.

He classifies his constant talk of Barbara, and the refugee stories linked to the memory of the Nakba, as a “kind of resistance” in order to keep the memories of past generations alive and encourage the restoration of stolen rights.

He said: “Today’s generation is more aware than their parents and grandfathers than the generation of the Nakba, and the experience of the Nakba in 1948 cannot be repeated again.”

Mohammed Adwan, born in 1970, is a freed prisoner of an Israeli jail. He said: “The camp is the storehouse of the revolution since the Nakba, and the fathers and grandfathers are its fuel by constantly talking about Palestine with all this nostalgia.”

He added: “We will return sooner or later.”

Adwan said that refugee camps play a role in “resisting the occupation, forming the awareness of successive generations and preserving the national memory.”

He added: “It was important to preserve the names of our original towns and villages, by calling them to the refugee camps, as this is a resistance to the factors of time, and the occupation’s efforts to falsify reality and distort Palestinian geography.”

The growing population in the camp led to mixing with city neighborhoods. Simple houses built from brick and roofed with asbestos have largely disappeared, replaced by concrete houses.

A researcher in refugee affairs, Nader Abu Sharekh, said that stories told in the homes of the camps, generation after generation, have made the Palestinian cause “alive and growing.”

The families of each village and city destroyed in the Nakba gathered in neighborhoods inside the new camps to draft names. They used original names from their homeland, out of love for the land and adherence to the right of return, and to keep the names and meanings present in memory. In each camp there are streets bearing the names of original homes.

“In the camp, the events of the Nakba are present, and the right of return is an absolute belief,” Abu Sharekh said.

“In wedding parties, they sing historic songs from before the Nakba like Ataba, Mijna, Dabke and Dahia.

“These traditions remained in circulation, so that the homeland remains a title to joy, and the right of return remains in the refugees’ diaries.”

In the camp, old women still wear traditional dress rich in color.

People have allotted part of their yards to plant something that reminds them of their lost orchards and farms. Sometimes the space is used to construct a hut or tent.

Some of the refugees still bake using traditional clay ovens modeled on the kind lost in their destroyed towns and villages.