On Saturday 22 August the Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty told a press conference in Cairo that the sale of the statue of Sekhemka at Christie’s in July 2014 was an ”ethical crime” .
That will have made uncomfortable listening to the architect of the sale, the then Leader of Northampton Borough Council, David Mackintosh MP. Mr Mackintosh thought it would be easy money for the Council. Instead, as Mr el-Damaty’s comment shows, Northampton Borough Council created an intractable international cultural incident which has deeply angered the Egyptian Government and people, and profoundly embarrassed the UK Government and museum community in the international court of cultural opinion including at the International Council of Museums [ICOM] which is a consultant to the United Nations’ cultural body UNESCO .
Now David Cameron, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond and Culture Secretary John Whittingdale have just a week to prevent what is already a situation which is deeply damaging to the reputation of the UK, becoming an indelible international symbol of how not to protect and conserve the common culture which is held on trust in our museums. This is why the Save Sekhemka Campaigns in the UK and in Egypt are issuing this joint statement to ask the UK Government to extend the Temporary Export Ban on the statue of Sekhemka for one year .
This breathing space is essential to allow the two Governments concerned, the United Kingdom and Egypt, to join together and work with the International Council of Museums (ICOM), UNESCO and the buyer of Sekhemka to resolve the serious outstanding legal questions surrounding the export sale and ownership of Sekhemka and to achieve an amicable and legally secure solution to the dilemma posed to the world by Mr Mackintosh and Northampton Borough Council.
Clearly this solution must be one which protects the rights of all concerned. However, it is equally important that any solution does not serve to encourage those who wish to loot, traffic and trade in irreplaceable antiquities as commodities for cash. Above all it must be a solution which retains this glorious example of Egyptian Art and Culture on permanent public display for the education of scholars and the enjoyment of the public.
Written by Gunilla Loe
On behalf of the Save Sekhemka Action Groups in Egypt and Great Britain