In an outspoken attack on the sale of the statue of Sekhemka, the Egyptian Government has gone public in its attempt to prevent the export of the internationally important Old Kingdom statue of the Court Scribe from the UK to an unknown destination. Speaking at a press conference held in Cairo [Saturday] the Egyptian Antiquities Minister, Mr Mamdouh el-Damaty, told journalists that the sale of Sekhemka by Northampton Borough Council was
“…an ethical crime against human and Egyptian heritage,”
The Minister added that antiquities such as Sekhemka were there
“to spread information about civilization, heritage, arts, and culture. Therefore, the final resting place for any antiquity is the museum.”
In a further controversial comment Mr al-Damaty asked Egyptians, particularly those living in the UK, to donate to a fund to buy the statue for repatriation to Egypt. Campaigning groups as well as the UK Museum Association and other Arts groups hold that to attempt to buy back the statue would be to reward the unethical sale by Northampton Council and its then Leader, David Mackintosh MP and could encourage other unscrupulous or cash strapped local authorities to behave in a similar way. However, others point out that a serious attempt to buy back the statue could persuade the UK Government to extend the Temporary Export Ban on the statue beyond the current deadline of Friday 28 August.
Such comments from a senior Minister to the international press corps, particularly the description of the sale of Sekhemka as an “ethical crime”, are bound to be uncomfortable for the Cameron Government at a time when relations with Egypt and other countries in the Middle East are so sensitive. Meanwhile, thePipeLine understands that campaigning groups in the UK and Egypt are also in the process of lobbying the UK Government to extend the deadline arguing, amongst other things, that there are still unresolved legal questions over the export of the statue from Egypt in the 19th century and the sale of the statue for a world record £15.76 million at Christie’s in July 2014. Campaigners are especially keen to get to the bottom of the deal between Northampton Council and the Marquis of Northampton which saw the Marquis walk away with over £6 million of the proceeds of the auction even though the Council said it owned the statue and paid all the fees.