The theft and illegal excavation of antiquities are crimes as old as civilization itself. Anything of value is fair game to a thief, and the older and more unique the artifact, the higher the price it commands. In most cases, such items are smuggled out of the country of origin, to be sold primarily to collectors who are willing to pay enormous prices for one of a kind, very old and culturally-significant artifacts.
The fact is, trafficking in stolen cultural property is very profitable for transnational organized criminals and, in some cases, terrorist organizations.
Egypt is, and has for centuries been, one of the main source countries for smuggled items of cultural and archeological value. According to Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities, its archeological treasures have been targeted by looters since the around the end of the 18th century, and shifted into high gear after the 2011 Arab Spring revolution. Today, Egyptian authorities are attempting to recover millions of dollars’ worth of antiquities stolen during the political instability that followed the uprising. Taking advantage of the chaos, thieves raided and looted countless museums and historical sites.
One of the destinations for stolen antiquities is the United States. So it makes sense that the United States and Egypt work together to stop the illicit trade and smuggling of Egypt’s cultural and archeological artifacts. That is why, in late November, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry signed a memorandum of understanding that will help protect Egypt’s cultural heritage. Under this agreement, the United States has imposed import restrictions effective December 5, 2016 on archaeological material representing Egypt’s cultural heritage dating from 5200 B.C.E. through 1517 A.D.
This memorandum of understanding has been years in the making, and represents the first bilateral agreement in the Middle East or North Africa regarding the protection of antiquities, said Secretary of State Kerry.
“These antiquities are priceless treasures that do not belong to traffickers and crooks and should not be sold illegally and bought by wealthy people to hide away somewhere,” he said. “They are antiquities that belong to the world.”