The United States and Egypt signed a cultural property Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Wednesday after lengthy consideration. The agreement, authorized by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), restricts American imports of designated archaeological objects from Egypt in jeopardy of looting. The bilateral agreement covers ancient objects dating between 5200 BC through 1517 AD.
According to a State Department press release, the MoU will "reduce the incentive for pillage and trafficking."
The agreement took two years and seven months to finalize. Asked why the process took so long compared with other agreements, Nathan Arnold, Director for Media Affairs at the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, declined to comment. "It is the State Department’s policy to not comment on our private diplomatic negotiations with countries or internally," Arnold explained. "Achieving agreement on specific language for bilateral agreements involves a process."
While the US-Egypt cultural property MoU is an important cultural property protection agreement, it does not cover antiquities imported into the American marketplace prior to its adoption, overlooking imports that already occurred during the recent years of heightened heritage destruction. Customs officials and federal prosecutors conceivably could take action against prior shipments of illicit Egyptian artifacts under other federal laws. Homeland Security Investigations and US Attorneys' offices did just that in Operation Mummy's Curse, which involved the case of United States v. Khouli et al., and resulted in the repatriation of artifacts to Egypt during the MoU signing ceremony this week, including a mummy's hand.
Cultural objects covered by the new MoU's import restrictions may legally pass through America's borders under certain conditions, such as when accompanied by either an export permit or proof showing that the artifacts left Egypt before the adoption of US import regulations. Prohibited cultural material may be detained, seized, and forfeited by customs authorities as contraband, and smugglers could face criminal prosecution, although that rarely occurs.
Deborah Lehr of the Antiquities Coalition noted her organization's role in the US/Egypt MoU process, tweeting "proud to have been a partner," and observing that "US and Egypt sign first cultural heritage MOU in Arab region."
Video source: US Department of State
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