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EGYPT: Antiquities Council cuts ties with Louvre

October 8, 2009 |  7:46 am

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Egypt this week severed cultural and artistic ties with the Louvre museum in Paris until the French government returns artifacts taken decades ago from a tomb in Luxor. The move follows Egypt's recent international embarrassment over the rejection of Cultural Minister Farouk Hosni to head the Paris-based United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.      

Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities, said on Wednesday that the Louvre had failed to return five painted wall fragments that were stolen from a tomb in Luxor in the 1980s before they ended up in the French museum in 2002 and 2003.

"The Louvre bought the relics knowing they were stolen," Hawass said. "Acts like these show that unfortunately some museums encourage the stealing and ruining of Egyptian antiques. All seminars and lectures that we held in collaboration with the museum will be stopped until those artifacts are restored. We will similarly suspend the Louvre's expedition works currently held in Saqqara, Giza."

French minister of culture Frederic Mitterrand responded by saying that his country is willing to return the fragments only if it is proven that they were stolen.

"The National Scientific Commission for the Museum Collections of France will meet on Oct. 9th to discuss the provenance of the fragments, and if it agrees, the items will be returned to Egyptian authorities," the French ministry of culture said in an e-mailed statement.

While Hawass refused to link the Louvre decision with Hosni's UNESCO defeat, an official in the French cultural delegation in Egypt said that the strained climate since Hosni's defeat doesn’t help in finding a quick solution.

In his bid to become the first Arab to head UNESCO, Hosni was considered the leading candidate until his past anti-Jewish statements caused members of the U.N. board to withdraw their support. The post went to Irina Bokova of Bulgaria.

In addition to accusing northern European countries and the United States of launching a campaign to bring down Hosni before and during the voting, Egyptian papers suggested that France didn’t offer the 71-year-old the support it earlier promised.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: A Pharaonic tomb in Luxor. Credit: Agence-France Presse

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