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Egypt's Antiquities Threatened By Looters and Thieves

Causes are uncertainty political process and ineffectual police protection

Published on 23 February 2012

Author(s): Monthy's world/Monty Dobson

Type:  Blog

A sense of alarm is growing among the international community over the threat to Egypt's cultural heritage posed by uncertainty (malevolently incompetent dithering?) in the political process and mostly ineffectual police protection. The sorry state of affairs has endangered the cultural heritage treasures of ancient Egypt.

Not that Egypt alone is under threat as the recent daylight raid on the museum at Mount Olympus illustrates, looting and illicit trade in antiquities is big money business.According to the Historical Museum of Basel Switzerland the illicit trade of cultural property is a growing international business worth billions annually. Indeed, every year "hundreds of thousands of items of cultural significance ranging from works of art, manuscripts, ancient monuments ... [to] objects of ethnographic and archaeological significance are illegally removed from their countries of origin and sold on the international market (1)."

While it is impossible to determine the exact market value of illicit trade in cultural items, according to official US government reports the market is likely somewhere in the region of $US 6 billion per year (2). Indeed, the same report notes that "the annual dollar value of stolen art and cultural property is exceeded only by trafficking in narcotics, money laundering and weapons” [3].

To return to the threats faced by Egypt's antiquities: on 6 February 2012 the International Council of Museums (ICOM) announced a new Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk during a press conference at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Cairo (NMEC).

The ICOM Red Lists are intended" to assist police and customs officials, heritage professionals and art and antiquities dealers to identify types of objects most susceptible to illicit trafficking, smuggling and illicit trade (4)."

According to the Emergency List items were looted from archaeological sites, stolen from museums or sourced illegally and curators, art and antiquities dealers and the general public should diligently investigate any item of Egyptian origin that is up for sale.

Sadly the market for illegally sourced cultural heritage objects is thriving.


  1. Janet K. Hawley, The International Illicit Trade in Cultural Heritage: Can Museum Professionals Help, Stop It?, Historical Museum of Basel
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. ICOMS Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk


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