Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone

This undated photo provided by the British Museum, "Hieroglyphs unlocking ancient Egypt," celebrating the 200th anniversary of the stone's decipherment, at the British Museum, in London. (The British Museum via AP)
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Updated 30 November 2022

Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone

CAIRO: The debate over who owns ancient artifacts has been an increasing challenge to museums across Europe and America, and the spotlight has fallen on the most visited piece in the British Museum: The Rosetta Stone.
The inscriptions on the black granite slab became the seminal breakthrough in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics after it was taken from Egypt by forces of the British empire in 1801.
Now, as Britain’s largest museum marks the 200-year anniversary of the decipherment of hieroglyphics, thousands of Egyptians are demanding the stone’s return.
‘’The British Museum’s holding of the stone is a symbol of Western cultural violence against Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, dean at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, and organizer of one of two petitions calling for the stone’s return.
The acquisition of the Rosetta Stone was tied up in the imperial battles between Britain and France. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s military occupation of Egypt, French scientists uncovered the stone in 1799 in the northern town of Rashid, known by the French as Rosetta. When British forces defeated the French in Egypt, the stone and over a dozen other antiquities were handed over to the British under the terms of an 1801 surrender deal between the generals of the two sides.
It has remained in the British Museum since.
Hanna’s petition, with 4,200 signatures, says the stone was seized illegally and constitutes a “spoil of war.” The claim is echoed in a near identical petition by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister for antiquities affairs, which has more than 100,000 signatures. Hawass argues that Egypt had no say in the 1801 agreement.
The British Museum refutes this. In a statement, the Museum said the 1801 treaty includes the signature of a representative of Egypt. It refers to an Ottoman admiral who fought alongside the British against the French. The Ottoman sultan in Istanbul was nominally the ruler of Egypt at the time of Napoleon’s invasion.
The Museum also said Egypt’s government has not submitted a request for its return. It added that there are 28 known copies of the same engraved decree and 21 of them remain in Egypt.
The contention over the original stone copy stems from its unrivaled significance to Egyptology. Carved in the 2nd century B.C., the slab contains three translations of a decree relating to a settlement between the then-ruling Ptolemies and a sect of Egyptian priests. The first inscription is in classic hieroglyphics, the next is in a simplified hieroglyphic script known as Demotic, and the third is in Ancient Greek.
Through knowledge of the latter, academics were able to decipher the hieroglyphic symbols, with French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion eventually cracking the language in 1822.
‘‘Scholars from the previous 18th century had been longing to find a bilingual text written in a known language,’’ said Ilona Regulski, the head of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum. Regulski is the lead curator of the museum’s winter exhibition, “Hieroglyphs Unlocking Ancient Egypt,” celebrating the 200th anniversary of Champollion’s breakthrough.
The stone is one of more than 100,000 Egyptian and Sudanese relics housed in the British Museum. A large percentage were obtained during Britain’s colonial rule over the region from 1883 to 1953.
It has grown increasingly common for museums and collectors to return artifacts to their country of origin, with new instances reported nearly monthly. Often, it’s the result of a court ruling, while some cases are voluntary, symbolizing an act of atonement for historical wrongs.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum returned 16 antiquities to Egypt in September after a US investigation concluded they had been illegally trafficked. On Monday, London’s Horniman Museum signed over 72 objects, including 12 Benin Bronzes, to Nigeria following a request from its government.
Nicholas Donnell, a Boston-based attorney specializing in cases concerning art and artifacts, said no common international legal framework exists for such disputes. Unless there is clear evidence an artifact was acquired illegally, repatriation is largely at the discretion of the museum.
‘‘Given the treaty and the timeframe, the Rosetta Stone is a hard legal battle to win,’’ said Donnell.
The British Museum has acknowledged that several repatriation requests have been made to it from various countries for artifacts, but it did not provide The Associated Press with any details on their status or number. It also did not confirm whether it has ever repatriated an artifact from its collection.
For Nigel Hetherington, an archaeologist and CEO of the online academic forum Past Preserves, the museum’s lack of transparency suggests other motives.
‘‘It’s about money, maintaining relevance and a fear that in returning certain items people will stop coming,’’ he said.
Western museums have long pointed to superior facilities and larger crowd draws to justify their holding of world treasures. Amid turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egypt saw an uptick in artifact smuggling, which cost the country an estimated $3 billion between 2011 and 2013, according to the US-based Antiquities Coalition. In 2015, it was discovered that cleaners at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum had damaged the burial mask of Pharaoh Tutankhamun by attempting to re-attach the beard with super glue.
But President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government has since invested heavily in its antiquities. Egypt has successfully reclaimed thousands of internationally smuggled artifacts and plans to open a newly built, state-of-the-art museum where tens of thousands of objects can be housed. The Grand Egyptian Museum has been under construction for well over a decade and there have been repeated delays to its opening.
Egypt’s plethora of ancient monuments, from the pyramids of Giza to the towering statues of Abu Simbel at the Sudanese border, are the magnet for a tourism industry that drew in $13 billion in 2021.
For Hanna, Egyptians’ right to access their own history should remain the priority. “How many Egyptians can travel to London or New York?” she said.
Egyptian authorities did not respond to a request for comment regarding Egypt’s policy toward the Rosetta Stone or other Egyptian artifacts displayed abroad. Hawass and Hanna said they are not pinning hopes on the government to secure its return.
‘‘The Rosetta Stone is the icon of Egyptian identity,’’ said Hawass. ‘‘I will use the media and the intellectuals to tell the (British) museum they have no right.’’


Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi

Updated 04 February 2023

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi

  • Exiled Nobel-winning former judge speaks out
  • Revolution is a ‘train that will not stop,’ she says

JEDDAH: Protests in Iran over the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman are the start of an irreversible “revolutionary process” that will eventually lead to the collapse of the regime, one of Tehran’s most eloquent critics said on Friday.

Shirin Ebadi, the distinguished Iranian lawyer and former judge who lives in exile in London, said the protests were the boldest challenge yet to the legitimacy of Iran’s clerical establishment.

“This revolutionary process is like a train that will not stop until it reaches its final destination,” said Ebadi, 75, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work defending human rights.

“The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” she told Reuters in a phone interview from London.

Iran’s clerical rulers have faced widespread unrest since Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police on Sept. 16 last year after she was arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire.”

This image grab from a UGC video posted on Feb. 3, 2023, reportedly shows protesters demanding the release of political prisoners during a march in Iran's southeastern city of Zahedan. (AFP)

Iran has blamed Amini's death on existing medical problems and has accused its enemies of fomenting the unrest to destabilise the regime.

For months, Iranians from all walks of life have called for the fall of the clerical establishment, chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Amini’s death has unbottled years of anger among many Iranians over issues ranging from economic misery and discrimination against ethnic minorities to tightening social and political restrictions.

As they have done in the past in the face of protests in the past four decades, Iran’s hard-line rulers have cracked down hard. Authorities have handed down dozens of death sentences to people involved in protests and have carried out at least four hangings, in what rights activists say is a crackdown aimed at intimidating people and keep them off the streets.

BACKGROUND

The crackdown has stoked diplomatic tensions at a time when talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are at a standstill.

The rights group HRANA said 527 protesters had been killed during unrest, of whom 71 were children, and nearly 20,000 protesters had been arrested.

However, protests have slowed considerably since the hangings began. Videos posted on social mediashowed people chanting “Death to Khamenei” from rooftops in some cities, but nothing on the scale of past months.

Ebadi said the state’s use of deadly violence would deepen anger felt by ordinary Iranians about the clerical establishment because the their grievances remain unaddressed. “The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” she said.

The crackdown has stoked diplomatic tensions at a time when talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are at a standstill.

To force the regime from power, Ebadi said the West should take “practical steps” such as recalling their ambassadors from Tehran, and should avoid reaching any agreement with Iran, including the nuclear deal. 

With deepening economic misery, chiefly because of US sanctions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear work, many Iranians are feeling the pain of galloping inflation and rising joblessness.

Inflation has soared to over 50 percent, the highest level in decades. Youth unemployment remains high with over 50 percent of Iranians being pushed below the poverty line, according to reports by Iran’s Statistics Center.

(With Reuters)


UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians

Updated 03 February 2023

UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians

  • Turk criticised Israel for measures that "can only lead to further violence and bloodshed"
  • Since the start of this year, the conflict has killed 36 Palestinians

GENEVA: UN rights chief Volker Turk on Friday called for an end to the “illogic of escalation” between Israel and the Palestinians, amid a spike in deadly violence between the two.
Turk criticized Israel for measures that “can only lead to further violence and bloodshed,” following a surge in attacks and fighting that have drawn calls from the international community for calm and restraint.
Since the start of this year, the conflict has killed 36 Palestinians — including attackers, militants and civilians — as well as the six Israeli civilians, including a child, and one Ukrainian.
“Rather than doubling down on failed approaches of violence and coercion... I urge everyone involved to step out of the illogic of escalation that has only ended in dead bodies, shattered lives and utter despair,” Turk said in a statement.
“Recent measures being taken by the Government of Israel are only fueling further violations and abuses of human rights law,” he continued.
“We know from experience that the proliferation of firearms will lead to increased risks of killings and injuries of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The UN rights chief was referring to measures to ease access to firearms announced by Israel’s government last week following a shooting by a Palestinian in east Jerusalem that killed six Israelis and one Ukrainian.
The following day, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and injured two Israelis the in Silwan neighborhood just outside the walled Old City in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem attacks followed the deadliest Israeli army raid in the West Bank in almost 20 years that on January 26 left 10 Palestinians dead in Jenin, including armed militants.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, complained that the UN rights chief’s statement “does not even have the decency to describe the attacks last week for what they were, acts of Palestinian terrorism targeting the Jewish people.”
“It does not even have the courage to condemn the death of innocent worshippers,” she added.
In his statement, Turk urged “all those holding public office or other positions of authority — indeed everyone — to stop using language that incites hatred of ‘the other’.”
He added that other measures announced by Israel in response to the Jerusalem attack, including “punitive forced evictions and house demolitions” may amount to “collective punishment.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region last week, urging deescalation following the deadly upsurge in violence.
The latest uptick follows the deadliest year in the West Bank since the United Nations started tracking fatalities in the territory in 2005.
Some 235 people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last year, with nearly 90 percent of the fatalities on the Palestinian side, according to AFP figures.


Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike

Updated 03 February 2023

Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike

  • The director had been arrested months before the current anti-regime protests erupted
  • His wife Tahereh Saeedi posted a picture on Instagram of Panahi being driven from prison in a vehicle

PARIS: Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been released on bail after starting a hunger strike to protest against his almost seven-month detention, supporters said on Friday.
The director had been arrested months before the current anti-regime protests erupted, but his imprisonment became a symbol of the plight of artists speaking out against the authorities.
Panahi has been released from Tehran’s Evin prison “two days after starting his hunger strike for freedom,” the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said on Twitter, while Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper posted an image of Panahi jubilantly embracing a supporter.
His wife Tahereh Saeedi posted a picture on Instagram of Panahi being driven from prison in a vehicle.
The prize-winning director was arrested in July and went on a dry hunger strike on Wednesday to protest his continued detention.
“Mr Panahi was temporarily released from Evin prison with the efforts of his family, respected lawyers, and representatives of the cinema,” Iran’s House of Cinema, which groups together industry professionals, said in a statement.
The announcement that Panahi was going on a dry hunger strike sparked a wave of concern across the world about the director, who has won prizes at all of Europe’s top three film festivals.
“Today, like many people trapped in Iran, I have no choice but to protest against this inhumane behavior with my dearest possession — my life,” Panahi had said in the statement published by his wife.
“I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison,” he said.
Panahi, 62, was arrested on July 11 and had been due to serve a six-year sentence handed down in 2010 after his conviction for “propaganda against the system.”
On October 15, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial, raising hopes among his legal team that he could be released, but he remained in prison.
Panahi won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his film “The Circle.” In 2015, he won the Golden Bear in Berlin for “Taxi Tehran,” and in 2018, he won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for “Three Faces.”
Panahi’s latest film, “No Bears,” which like much of his recent work stars the director himself, was screened at the 2022 Venice Film Festival when the director was already behind bars. It won the Special Jury Prize.
“It is extraordinary, a relief, a total joy. We express our gratitude to all those who mobilized yesterday,” his French distributor, producer Michele Halberstadt, told AFP.
“His next fight is to have the cancelation of his sentence officially recognized. He’s outside, he’s free, and this is already great.”
Panahi’s July arrest came after he attended a court hearing for fellow film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who had been detained a few days earlier.
Rasoulof was released from prison on January 7 after being granted a two-week furlough for health reasons and is still believed to be outside of jail.
Cinema figures have been among the thousands of people arrested by Iran in its crackdown on the protests sparked by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating its strict dress code for women.
Star actor Taraneh Alidoosti, who had published images of herself without wearing the Islamic headscarf, was among those detained, although she was released in early January after being held for almost three weeks.


Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians

Updated 03 February 2023

Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians

  • The clash brings into focus the political sensitivities surrounding archaeology in the Middle East
  • Israelis and Palestinians each use ancient artifacts to support their claims over the land

BETHLEHEM, West Bank: An ivory spoon dating back 2,700 years that was recently repatriated to the Palestinian Authority from the United States has sparked a dispute with Israel’s new far-right government over the cultural heritage in the occupied West Bank.
The clash brings into focus the political sensitivities surrounding archaeology in the Middle East, where Israelis and Palestinians each use ancient artifacts to support their claims over the land.
Israel’s ultranationalist heritage minister has ordered officials to examine the legality of the US government’s historic repatriation of the artifact to the Palestinians earlier this month, and is calling for annexing archaeology in the occupied West Bank.
The artifact — a cosmetic spoon made of ivory and believed to have been plundered from a site in the West Bank — was seized in late 2021 by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as part of a deal with the New York billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt.
It was one of 180 artifacts illegally looted and purchased by Steinhardt that he surrendered as part of an agreement to avoid prosecution.
American officials handed an artifact over to the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Jan. 5 in what the US State Department’s Office of Palestinian Affairs said was “the first event of such repatriation” by the US to the Palestinians.
Dozens of Steinhardt’s surrendered artifacts have already been repatriated to Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkiye, Jordan, Libya and Israel. This spoon was the first and only item ever to be repatriated to the Palestinians.
The repatriation coincided with the first weeks of Israel’s new government, which is composed of ultranationalists who see the West Bank as the biblical heartland of the Jewish people and inextricably linked to the state of Israel.
Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu’s office said last week that the legality of the repatriation “is being examined by the archaeology staff officer with the legal counsel, which will examine all aspects of the matter, including the Oslo Accords that the US has signed.”
The case underscores how archaeology and cultural heritage are intertwined with the competing claims of the Israelis and Palestinians in the decades-long conflict.
“Any artifact that we know that it comes out illegally from Palestine, we have the right to have it back,” said Jihad Yassin, director general of excavations and museums in the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry. “Each artifact says a story from the history of this land.”
The ministry is part of the Palestinian Authority, the government established as part of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s that exercises limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Those agreements between Israel and the Palestinians were supposed to include coordination on a raft of issues, including archaeology and cultural heritage.
But the agreements have largely unraveled. Yassin said that the archaeology committee has not met in around two decades, and that there is virtually zero coordination between Israel and the Palestinians concerning antiquities theft prevention in the West Bank.
“We try to do our best to protect these archaeological sites, but we face difficulties,” he said.
Yassin said that around 60 percent of the West Bank’s archaeological sites are in territory under complete Israeli military control, and that his ministry’s theft prevention workers “manage to control in a high percentage the looting” in areas under Palestinian Authority control.
Nonetheless, many of the illicit artifacts that have made their way to Israel’s legal antiquities market were looted from the West Bank, he said.
According to court documents, Steinhardt bought the ivory cosmetic spoon in 2003 from Israeli antiquities dealer Gil Chaya for $6,000. The artifact had no provenance — paperwork detailing where it came from and how it had entered the dealer’s inventory — but Chaya said the object was from the West Bank town of El-Koum, which is under Palestinian Authority control.
Another artifact believed to have been looted from the same town, a “Red Carnelian Sun Fish amulet (that) dates to circa 600 B.C.E.,” remains missing, according to the DA’s office. Steinhardt has yet to locate the item, but if it is found, it will be repatriated to the Palestinians, the office said.
American authorities returned 28 objects to Israel last year, not including three that were seized in place at the Israel Museum of Jerusalem. Seven others meant to be returned to Israel have yet to be found. Several of the items returned to Israel are believed to have been looted from the West Bank.
The Israel Antiquities Authority declined comment on the artifact’s repatriation to the Palestinians.
Heritage Minister Eliyahu, a religious ultranationalist in Netanyahu’s government now in charge of the country’s Antiquities Authority, denies the existence of a Palestinian people.
Since taking office, he has accused the Palestinian Authority of committing “national terrorism” and “erasing heritage” at an archaeological site in a Palestinian-controlled area near the West Bank city of Nablus.
It remains unclear what impact, if any, a review by the ministry’s legal counsel could have. It appears unlikely Israel could confiscate the artifact from the Palestinians, but a legal opinion against the move could potentially complicate future repatriations.
Earlier this week, Eliyahu said he would be giving the Israel Antiquities Authority full control over archaeological sites, cultural heritage and theft prevention throughout the West Bank — a move that critics say would in effect apply Israeli law over occupied territory in breach of international law.
Currently, archaeological excavations and antiquities in the West Bank are managed by the Civil Administration’s archaeology staff officer, which is part of the Defense Ministry. Israel has not formally annexed the West Bank, and the territory is treated as occupied and is governed under military law.
“All heritage on both sides of the green line will earn full protection, at an international and scientific standard,” Eliyahu wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. He said the state of Israel would “act in a uniform and professional manner from the (Mediterranean) sea to the Jordan.”
Alon Arad, director of Israeli cultural heritage non-governmental organization Emek Shaveh, said that putting the Israel Antiquities Authority in charge of archaeology in the occupied territory was “activating Israeli law in the West Bank, which means annexation.”
Eliyahu’s office declined repeated interview requests.
Yassin said that for the time being, the artifact will remain at the ministry, where it will be studied by one of its archaeologists. Then, he said, it will be displayed at one of the West Bank’s museums.
“It’s not the only one,” Yassin said. “It is the beginning.”


Nobel laureate Ebadi says Iran’s ‘revolutionary process’ is irreversible

Updated 03 February 2023

Nobel laureate Ebadi says Iran’s ‘revolutionary process’ is irreversible

  • Iran’s clerical rulers have faced widespread unrest since a 22-year-old woman died in custody last September
  • Shirin Ebadi says the protest movement is ‘like a train that will not stop until it reaches its final destination’

DUBAI: Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman last year has sparked an irreversible “revolutionary process” that would eventually lead to the collapse of the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s clerical rulers have faced widespread unrest since Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police on Sept. 16 after she was arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire.”
Iran has blamed Amini’s death on preexisting medical problems and has accused the United States and other foes fomenting the unrest to destabilize the clerical establishment.
As they have done in the past in the face of protests in the past four decades, Iran’s hardline rulers have cracked down hard. Authorities have handed down dozens of death sentences to people involved in protests and have carried out at least four hangings, in what rights activists say is aimed at intimidating people and keep them off the streets.
A staunch critic of the clerical establishment that has ruled in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Ebadi has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the anti-government demonstrations.
Like many critics of Iran’s clerical rulers, Ebadi believes the current wave of protests has been the boldest challenge to the establishment’s legitimacy yet.
“This revolutionary process is like a train that will not stop until it reaches its final destination,” said Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work defending human rights and who has been in exile in London since 2009.
The 1979 revolution toppled Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a secular monarch allied with the West, and led to the formation of an Islamic Republic.
With the latest protests ushering Iran into an era of deepening crisis between the rulers and society at large, Amini’s death has unbottled years of anger among many Iranians over issues ranging from economic misery and discrimination against ethnic minorities to tightening social and political restrictions.
For months, Iranians from all walks of life have called for the fall of the clerical establishment, chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
However, protests have slowed considerably since the hangings began. They have been at their most intense in the Sunni-populated areas of Iran and are currently mostly limited to those regions.
Videos shared on social media, unverifiable by Reuters, showed people chanting “Death to Khamenei” from rooftops in some cities, but nothing on the scale of past months.
The rights group HRANA said that as of Wednesday, 527 protesters had been killed during unrest, including 71 minors. It said 70 members of the security forces had also been killed. As many as 19,262 protesters are believed to have been arrested, it said.
GROWING ANGER
Ebadi, speaking in a phone interview from London, said the state’s use of deadly violence will deepen anger felt by ordinary Iranians about the clerical establishment because their grievances remain unaddressed.
“The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” Ebadi told Reuters in a phone interview from London.
With deepening economic misery, chiefly because of US sanctions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear work, many Iranians are feeling the pain of galloping inflation and rising joblessness.
Inflation has soared to over 50%, the highest level in decades. Youth unemployment remains high with over 50% of Iranians being pushed below the poverty line, according to reports by Iran’s Statistics Center.
The crackdown has stoked diplomatic tensions at a time when talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are at a standstill. The United States and its Western allies have slapped sanctions on Iranian authorities and entities for their involvement in the crackdown and other human rights abuses.
To force Iran’s clerical establishment from power, Ebadi said the West should take “practical steps” such as downgrading its political ties with Iran by recalling its ambassadors from Tehran, and should avoid reaching any agreement with the Islamic Republic, including the nuclear deal.