A sharp increase in looting of cultural property, spurred by political unrest in Egypt, has led the Egyptian government to seek import restrictions on cultural property, including coins.
Looting has nearly doubled since the Egyptian revolution of 2011, according to the government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, with more than 7,000 instances reported during the past three years.
In April, Egypt’s government filed a cultural property request with the United States seeking import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Egypt under the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Restrictions are sought for those items representing Egypt’s “prehistoric through Ottoman heritage,” including coins.
Similar arrangements between the United States government and governments in Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, and Italy, among others, have been fought vociferously by collectors of ancient coins, and this request from Egypt is no different.
The Cultural Property Advisory Committee met June 2 to 4 in Washington, D.C., to consider whether to accept or deny the Egyptian request, the full details of which are confidential, according to the April 16 announcement in the Federal Register.
The proposal before CPAC drew criticism from individuals in the numismatic community as well as from the industry organizations for collectors and dealers, including the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, the American Numismatic Association, the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild.
Proponents of the request for restrictions, including representatives of the academic and archaeological communities, also filed comments.
The range of peril to Egyptian heritage includes theft and looting at unsecured museums and construction projects, as well as acts of terrorism, according to a public summary of the request provided by the United States’ Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.
What’s eligible for restrictions?
The 1983 law known as the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act spells out circumstances and material eligible for import restrictions.
Under the guidelines, no object may be considered to be an object of archaeological interest unless such object is of cultural significance; at least 250 years old; and was normally discovered as a result of scientific excavation, clandestine or accidental digging, or exploration on land or under water.
Similarly, four conditions must be met before import restrictions can be implemented, according to the law.
Simplified, these are:
➤ That the cultural patrimony of the respective nation is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials.