Feature

Egypt Hosts Conference to Protect Cultural Heritage, Confront Looting

Egypt Hosts Conference to Protect Cultural Heritage, Confront Looting

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Ten Arab countries agreed to launch a working group to preserve archeological property in a conference on cultural heritage held in Cairo on Thursday.

Cairo hosted the two-day conference, which began on Wednesday, amid the participation of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and representatives from nine other Arab countries.

The countries participating in the conference include Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman.

The working group was among the six points of agreement reached at the conclusion of the conference, titled the Cairo Declaration. The attendants also agreed to establish an international advisory committee on the means of protecting monuments from looting, Egypt’s minister of antiquities announced.

LOOTING AND DESTROYING ANTIQUITIES

Minister Mamdouh al-Damaty added that an awareness campaign will also be launched at countries which suffer from antiquities trafficking.

“The Middle East has suffered from campaigns of looting monuments … especially in Iraq,” Damaty said.

Islamic State fighters in Iraq looted in February the Mosul Museum, destroying priceless statues and sculptures from the historical Assyrian era.

Syria is another Middle Eastern state which has suffered the loss of priceless monuments amid fighting between authorities and militants. At least three of the six UNESCO World Heritage sites found in the country have been used for military purposes since the fighting started in 2011.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stressed his sorrow regarding the increasing acts of vandalism of cultural heritage at the hands of “terrorist” groups in the region, in a Thursday meeting with Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general.

Bokova is in Cairo to attend the conference. The director said on Wednesday that the conference aims to raise awareness regarding the consequences of antiquities trafficking to finance “terrorism”, reported Reuters.

“I think we both agree that … the destruction of heritage is totally unacceptable and that we have to fight extremism,” Bokova told reporters on Thursday following a meeting with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby.

EGYPT’S STRUGGLE WITH LOOTING MONUMENTS

Egypt is also invested in preserving cultural heritage in light of a looting campaign the country has faced since a popular uprising in 2011 prompted political turmoil.

Egypt’s Museum of Islamic Art was badly damaged by an explosion which rocked the capital in January 2014, killing four people and destroying several artifacts kept in the museum.

The Malawi National Museum, in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya, was broken into and looted in August 2013, amid a wave of nationwide violence which followed the deadly dispersal of two sit-ins set up in support of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

The state has introduced last month legislative amendments creating harsher punishments for the crime of antiquities looting and trafficking.

A UNESCO campaign titled “#Unite4Heritage” was launched in Egypt from the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo on Wednesday, coinciding with the start of the cultural heritage conference.

The campaign, which was launched with a primary focus on Arab countries, aims to encourage young people to take action for the protection of threatened heritage, amid the threat posed by militant groups in the region.

(Writing by Rana Muhammad Taha)

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  • Eric Zoetmulder

    It’s not just the looting, but also the willful destruction of old buildings in areas like Islamic Cairo, 18th and 19th century Alexandria, even Miniya, Sohag and other smallish Upper Egypt locations. The solution has to come from Egyptians themselves rooted in a nationwide sense of ownership of history, and that covers not just the pharaonic periods, but everyday till yesterday.
    Considering that Ramadan soaps are the only source of history learning in Egypt, can we think of something on TV to convince people that Egypt’s heritage is theirs as well ?

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