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When ancient artifacts become political pawns

The New York Times has an interesting piece about how Egypt’s requests for the return of artifacts is motivated by politics as much as it is by culture.

Mr. Hawass also recently fired a shot at France, demanding the Louvre return five fresco fragments it purchased in 2000 and 2003 from a gallery and at auction. They belonged to a 3,200-year-old tomb near Luxor and had been in storage at the museum. Egypt had made the demand before, but this time suspended the Louvre’s long-term excavation at Saqqara, near Cairo, and said it would stop collaborating on Louvre exhibitions.

France got the message. It promised to send the fragments back tout de suite.

It didn’t go unnoticed in Paris, Berlin or Cairo that Mr. Hawass pressed his case about Nefertiti and suspended the excavations by the Louvre just after his country’s culture minister, Farouk Hosny, bitterly lost a bid to become director general of the United Nations’ cultural agency, Unesco. The post went late last month to a Bulgarian diplomat instead. Mr. Hosny would have been the first Arab to land the job, and Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, had banked a not insignificant amount of his own prestige on the minister’s getting it.

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