rosetta stoneEgyptian authorities have been demanding that the world-famous and crucially important artifact the Rosetta Stone be returned to Egypt. As a student of Greek archaeology, I recall clearly the brouhaha over the demanded return to Athens of the Elgin Marbles, also at the British Museum like the Rosetta Stone. While it may sound like a good idea to repatriate these priceless treasures, given the current climate in Egypt and its relatively recent past, it seems to me that the stone which  unlocked the hieroglyphs for the world would not be safe ultimately in the Land of the Pharaohs.

Why do I make this contention concerning a possible security threat for the Rosetta Stone if it were returned to Egypt? I base on my conclusion on the rising Islamic fundamentalism there that is allowing for other priceless antiquities to be destroyed on a regular basis by Muslim fanatics, including faces and hands being hacked off statuary that had survived for millennia. In consideration of this factor – whereby Egypt is obviously unable to protect all of its treasures – it would seem best to leave the Rosetta Stone in London. (Although the way things are going in Londonistan, that locale may become unsafe as well.)

Ditto with the other antiquities – including the exquisite bust of Queen Nefertiri – that Egypt is pressing other governments to return: Can they be guaranteed to be safe from Muslim maniacs?

Indeed, Muslim fanatics have been destroying antiquities, including not only the most egregious case of the Bamiyan Buddhas but, again, also in Egypt itself. For example, in 2006 a Muslim religious fanatic in Egypt apparently incited by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, who earlier had put out a fatwa against statues damaged statues in an Egytian museum.

Statue attack fuels fears of an Islamist Egypt

A religiously motivated attack on statues at a museum in Cairo has sparked outcry in Egypt and fuelled fears that the country is veering towards an Islamic state.

The attack on three artworks, by a black-clad and veiled woman screaming, “Infidels, infidels!” followed a fatwa issued by the Grand Mufti of Cairo, Ali Gomaa, which banned all decorative statues of living beings.

It led to furious criticism of the mufti from Egyptian liberals. In a televised debate with the mufti after the attack, one poet raged that “the prevalent religious discourse in the country encourages terror”.

Although the ancient treasures of Egypt have been protected under Islam so far, an increasing extremism in the country could make statues such as the quartzite head of Nefertiti, the colossus of Amenhotep, and the golden death mask of Tutankhamen possible targets in future.

“It was a fully covered, religious woman,” said Raisa Intesar, who looks after both the museum and Mr Heshmat, who is now 86. “She had jumped over the wall. We rushed out to stop her but by the time we had overpowered her, she had destroyed three statues.”…

“She had been listening to the mufti, and was following his orders,” Ms Intesar said.

To reiterate, other recent instances have been reported of Muslim fanatics have been hacking off hands and faces of ancient statuary in other parts of Egypt, also possibly encouraged by the fatwa.

As the article, “Fatwa against statues triggers uproar in Egypt” at Middle East Online, explains:

…many fear the edict could prod Islamic fundamentalists to attack Egypt’s thousands of ancient and pharaonic statues on show at tourist sites across the country.

“We don’t rule out that someone will enter the Karnak temple in Luxor or any other pharaonic temple and blow it up on the basis of the fatwa,” Gamal al-Ghitani, editor of the literary Akhbar al-Adab magazine, said.

Under such circumstances, should we just hand over priceless antiquities to Egypt?

Further Reading

Egypt ignores rebuff and demands British Museum return Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone row ‘would be solved by loan to Egypt’
Egypt pushes for return of antiquities to origin countries
Fatwa against statues triggers uproar in Egypt
Religiously Motivated Attack on Egyptian Statues