Egyptians want to recover the Rosetta Stone | New

More countries are demanding the repatriation of their heritage museums in Europe and North America.

And thousands of Egyptians are again calling for the repatriation of the Rosetta Stone, one of the most important pieces in the British Museum.

“The possession of the stone by the British Museum is a symbol of Western cultural violence against Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, dean of the Arab Academy of Science, Technology and Maritime Transport and organizer of the one of two petitions. calling for the return of the stone.

The inscriptions on the dark gray granite slab, the text of a decree in three languages, were the fundamental breakthrough in the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The “confiscation” of the Rosetta Stone came during the Imperial battles between Britain and France. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s military occupation of Egypt, French soldiers discovered the stone in 1799 in the northern town of Rashid, known to the French as Rosette.

In 1801, British forces defeated the French in Egypt, and the stone and more than a dozen other antiquities were taken by the British under the terms of the surrender agreement. It has remained in the British Museum ever since.

Hanna’s petition, with 4,200 signatures, claims the seizure of the stone was “an act of looting” of “spoils of war”. This assertion is echoed in a petition by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former Minister for Antiquities Affairs, which has more than 100,000 signatures. Both petitions argue that Egypt had no say in the 1801 agreement.

In a statement, the British Museum said the 1801 treaty included the signature of an Ottoman admiral who fought alongside the British against the French, arguing that he represented Egypt while the Ottoman sultan nominally ruled the Egypt at the time of Napoleon’s invasion.

The Museum also said the Egyptian government had not submitted a request for its return and that there were 21 of the 28 known copies of the engraved decree still in Egypt.

A breakthrough in understanding hieroglyphs

The original stone has unparalleled importance to Egyptology. Carved in the 2nd century BC. AD, the slab contains three versions of a decree relating to a settlement between the then-ruling Ptolemies and a sect of Egyptian priests. The first is classical hieroglyphics, the next is a simplified hieroglyphic script known as demotic, and the third is ancient Greek.

Thanks to the knowledge of the latter, scholars were able to decipher the hieroglyphic symbols, with the French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion having finally deciphered the language in 1822.

The stone is one of more than 100,000 Egyptian and Sudanese relics brought to the British Museum. Many of them were captured when Britain colonized the two countries from 1883 to 1953.

More and more museums and collectors are returning objects to their country of origin, sometimes by court order, while some cases are voluntary, presented as an act of atonement for historical wrongs.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York returned 16 antiquities to Egypt in September after an investigation in the United States concluded they had been illegally trafficked. On Monday, the Horniman Museum in London returned more than 72 objects, including 12 Beninese bronzes looted in 1897, to the Nigerian government.

Nicholas Donnell, a US attorney who specializes in cases involving art and artifacts, said there is no international legal framework for such disputes. Unless there is evidence that an artifact was acquired outside of channels considered acceptable, repatriation is left largely to the discretion of the museum.

“Given the treaty and the timeline, the Rosetta Stone is a tough legal battle to win,” Donnell said.

The British Museum acknowledged that several repatriation requests had been made to it by various countries for objects, but it did not provide The Associated Press with any details of their status or number. He also did not confirm if he had ever repatriated an artifact from his collection.

For Nigel Hetherington, archaeologist and CEO of online academic forum Past Preserves, the museum’s lack of transparency suggests other motives.

“It’s about money, maintaining relevance and fear that by returning certain items people will stop coming,” he said.

Egyptian requirements

Western museums have long tried to justify their holding of world heritage treasures by claiming higher quality facilities and higher visitor numbers.

For Hanna, the right of Egyptians to access their own history is the priority. “How many Egyptians can travel to London or New York?” she says.

Amid the unrest following the 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has seen an increase in the smuggling of artifacts, which cost the country an estimated $3 billion between 2011 and 2013. according to the US-based Antiquities Coalition.

But the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has since invested heavily in its antiquities. Egypt has successfully recovered thousands of internationally smuggled items and plans to open a new state-of-the-art museum where tens of thousands of items can be kept.

Egypt’s plethora of ancient monuments, from the pyramids of Giza to the towering statues of Abu Simbel near the border with Sudan, are the magnet of a tourism industry that attracted $13 billion in 2021.

Egyptian authorities did not respond to a request for comment regarding Egypt’s policy regarding the Rosetta Stone or other Egyptian artifacts on display abroad. Hawass and Hanna said they put no hope on the government.

“The Rosetta Stone is the icon of Egyptian identity,” Hawass said. “I will use the media and intellectuals to tell the (UK) museum they have no rights.”

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