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Egypt and Germany Fight over Nefertiti: Beauty of the Nile Trapped on the Spree - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

The diplomatic row between Germany and Egypt over the 2,400-year-old bust of the beautiful Queen Nefertiti is heating up. Berlin's refusal to allow her to travel is "unacceptable" says Cairo.

She may be 3,400-year-old foreigner, but she is still one of Berlin's best-known beauties. Her delicate features adorn posters all over town; there's an entire calendar devoted to her entrancing image; and thousands flock to the city's museum island each day just to catch a glimpse of her. Now, Egypt wants her back.

Queen Nefertiti's bust has been the jewel of the Berlin museum system since it was first put on display in 1923 -- and the German capital is unwilling to part with the temptress. Last month, when Egyptian authorities asked to borrow the sculpture for three months, German authorities turned them down, saying the sculpture was too fragile to travel. The response was immediate -- and outraged.

"We will make the lives of these museums miserable," Zahi Hawass, the flamboyant director of the Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, threatened in April. "It will be a scientific war."

Hawass stepped up his campaign last week, asking five other museums in Germany, Great Britain, France and the US to loan iconic Egyptian artifacts -- including the British Museum's Rosetta Stone and the Zodiac in the Louvre -- for the opening of Egypt's National Museum in 2011.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:49:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This issue really has me divided against myself.

On the one hand, I do understand countries' desire to get their looted ancient artifacts back.  But on the other hand, Zahi Hawass is such a megalomaniac and petty tyrant -- who runs Egypt's antiquities council like his own personal fiefdom and never saw a television camera he didn't like (unless it was pointed away from him) -- that I have trouble wishing him success in this.  His strongarm tactics are well-known in the field of Egyptology, and honestly this extortionate behavior is not just unseemly but unprofessional.

I also don't believe for a second that he would give those "borrowed" antiquities back.  Which then brings us back to the issue of "borrowing" something that's rightfully yours....

Gah.  It would be so much easier if I either thought Hawass was wrong... or if I knew less about him.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 04:58:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Every time I've seen a documentary in recent years on Egyptian archeological digs, Hawass hogs the limelight. It's obvious the team has to agree to film him advantageously (including shots of him riding off with the loot in the back of a pick-up) if they want to get permission to dig.

Of course that doesn't change the basic principle that Egyptian antiquities should be Egyptian, but he's a real horror show.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 05:40:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who would even question returning jews property that was looted during the war?

But of course we have plenty of questions about returning looted property to our former colonies.

by Laurent GUERBY on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 05:46:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The thing is that egyptology is a western science. The egyptians were massively disinterested in examining and understanding their heritage until recently. So to a certain extent I can sympathise with western museums that feel it was their work that made these finds significant and that therefore they have some professional and intellectual ownership of the artifacts.

In my own field of bellydance, we often find that the worst purveyors of fakelore are the egyptians themselves. Never, never, never ask an egyptian about the origins of any form of their dance or traditions. As Morocco, a US dancer who is the foremost authority on ME dance history, once said; "the egyptians seem to be be culturally disinclined to inquire into their own history."

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 10:02:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, I see, it's the old "we sophisticated Westerners appreciate your cultural artifacts more than you lowly savages do" argument.  Very enlightened.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 10:11:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, slurs aside, it is hard to deny that the West made all the running on examining egyptian history, culture and artefacts. Until Nasser, the antiquities department were only interested in egyptology as a nationalistic project rather than as an intellectual inquiry.

Which is not to say that the Egyptians should not now have a say in examining and explaining their own history but, whilst they allow that egotistical slug to be a gatekeeper on the egyptian study of egypt, it is likely that the west's dominance of the subject will continue.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 10:34:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is an issue here of cultural continuity. After the Pharaohs came the Hellenistic civilisation, then the Romans, then Byzantium and then Islam, with the Caliphate at Damascus, then at Baghdad, then the Mamluks, and the Ottomans... The pyramids must have been rather alien to Islamic Egypt, and so they were to the West, but during the Enlightenment the West "invented" anthropology, ethnography, and archaeology and in the 19th century the intelligentsia was absolutely fascinated (see orientalism) with this kind of stuff.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 10:47:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The pyramids must have been rather alien to Islamic Egypt

Which islam do you mean ? The current increasingly fundamentalist egypt only has its roots in the Nasser revolution of 48, where the muslim brotherhood were invited into his government (they declined).

You only have to go on the streets of the poorer districts to see the truth that culturally the egyptians do not have austere traditions, they are largely a party people who love music and dancing (and drinking booze and smoking dope). So, if there is a disinclination towards intellectual examination of history, I don't think it comes from islam.

I have often suspected that the egyptians know that their history is pretty complicated with much that conflicts with islam and several points of disconnection with ancient egypt. Like most peoples they want to be proud of their country and so effect a cultural disinterest as there is a difference between knowing something and having to assimilate that and thinking something is possible but let's not look too closely.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:04:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I mean the Islam of the 7th century, already.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:11:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And given that Islam developed as a direct reaction against polytheism, and that a key episode in the life of the Prophet Muhammad was the return to Mecca and destruction of the idols around the Ka'aba, yes, it is a reasonable assumption that the polytheism of earlier Egyptian civilizations would not have sat easily with the newly Muslim Egyptians.

Perhaps it is a testament to the Egyptians' appreciation for their cultural heritage that the pharaonic mounments were not destroyed or defaced.  Well, not except by those who destroyed or damaged them in the act of stealing them, like for example the Champollion at tomb of Seti I.  I'm sure he was just showing his respect when he removed those walls.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:21:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, there were Muslim rulers who attempted to destroy pharaonic monuments. Saladin's son, Sultan Othman, tried to take apart the smallest of the Gizeh pyramids in AD 1196/7, but gave up after eight months that produced this:



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:28:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Taliban had modern artillery to destroy the buddhas of Bamyan, and the destruction was not total.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:32:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also the Sphynx:
The one-meter-wide nose on the face is missing. A legend that the nose was broken off by a cannon ball fired by Napoléon's soldiers still survives, as do diverse variants indicting British troops, Mamluks, and others. However, sketches of the Sphinx by Frederick Lewis Norden made in 1737 and published in 1755 illustrate the Sphinx without a nose. The Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi, writing in the fifteenth century, attributes the vandalism to Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi fanatic from the khanqah of Sa'id al-Su'ada. In 1378, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest, Sa'im al-Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose. Al-Maqrizi describes the Sphinx as the "Nile talisman" on which the locals believed the cycle of inundation depended.


Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:36:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some context for that here.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 01:03:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mohammed was pretty tolerant of "the people of the book", allowing them to continue unmolested. He destroyed the idols at Mecca because they were part of a funtional religious polytheism that threatened the imposition of his vision of a singular God (it didn't help that they also were symbols of political opposition).

Generally, as I understand the wars of conquests, the muslims were far far too busy fighting each other's schisms to worry too much about artefacts and buildings that were obviously abandoned. By and large, so long as (non-Abrahammatic) peoples converted, everything was pretty much left alone. I'm pretty sure that Taliban are the only muslims to have destroyed a non-functional religious site.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:41:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Generally, as I understand the wars of conquests, the muslims were far far too busy fighting each other's schisms to worry too much about artefacts and buildings that were obviously abandoned. By and large, so long as (non-Abrahammatic) peoples converted, everything was pretty much left alone. I'm pretty sure that Taliban are the only muslims to have destroyed a non-functional religious site.

So how does that contradict the claim that they were "alien", and that there was no cultural continuity, or interest in systematically exploring them?

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:45:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
After the Pharaohs came the Hellenistic civilisation

Here are my Western blinders at work: "nos ancêtres les grècques". I omitted the Persians.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:47:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Hellenistic culture swamped Egypt as result of the invading Persians...
by Nomad on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:54:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If I'd believe Guy Arnold's "Africa: A Modern History", it wasn't until Nasser that Egypt embraced full independence from colonial powers - which to my mind and my simplistic world view is a compulsory element to get growth of cultural pride started, coupled to the nationalism fledging under Nasser.

You can't grow the same level of intellectual inquiry in 50 years. It doesn't surprise me at all there is a certain aggression to the Egyptian's methods; there's a lot of catching up to do. Certainly when the historic intellectual inquiry of Europe was inevitably coupled to ruthless plunder.

We're back to colonialism/imperialism again. Sigh.

by Nomad on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:37:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So then we'd have to look at what the Egyptians under the Mameluks thought of the 2000-plus-year-old archaeological heritage (because culturally there was probably no trace left of the Pharaohs' civilisation).

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:43:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, there are still traces of the Pharaonic civilization in certain Egyptian customs and practices, including female circumcision. (Not that we want to encourage that particular tradition....)

And the Mamluks were mainly Turkish and Circassian.  So until the Free Officers, Egypt hadn't really been ruled by Egyptians since the Persian conquest in 353, unless you count the Fatimids, who were also technically outsiders....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:01:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, that should have been 343, and it's 343 BC, btw.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:09:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I certainly wouldn't disagree, indeed I would accept a certain aggression in official policy towards reclaiming intelectual copyright of their history on those very grounds. However, this is more about the ego of an individual than about egyptian ownership. He is as zealous about impeding other egyptian scholars as he is europeans

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:46:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Where do you get this stuff?  Some people might deserve "a say" in their cultural heritage, but only if their motives are pure?

Perhaps "the West's head start" can be partly explained by the fact that Egypt was to varying degrees a colony, occupied by British troops, until 1952-53?  It's hard to be an archaeologist with someone standing on your head.

And for the record, Cairo University has been granting graduate degrees in Egyptology since well before Nasser, so it seems that somebody was interested in Egypt's cultural heritage before then.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:47:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Where do you get this stuff?  Some people might deserve "a say" in their cultural heritage, but only if their motives are pure?

Oh, come on. I didn't mean that and you know it. My view is that the guy is doing this for egotistical purposes only and he represents as much a problem for other egyptian egyptologists as he does non-egyptians.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:01:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would concur with you on that point, but some of the other things you've said in this thread indicate that someone has perhaps fed you some culturally loaded half-truths and misinformation.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:16:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I'm glad that you accept that one of your misconceptions about my positions can be altered, but by and large I suspect that once you began to colour all of my statements based on this travesty;-

Oh, I see, it's the old "we sophisticated Westerners appreciate your cultural artifacts more than you lowly savages do" argument.

I was never going to be given the benefit of the doubt.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:56:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I might suggest that you go back and read your own comment again.  You have in this thread made a number of sweeping statements about an entire people, statements which, in the context of a discussion about colonial exploitation, are rather shocking, and I have yet to see any evidence that you understand what is so offensive about them.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 01:42:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, if your opinion of me is as a racist imperialist running dog lackey, then I guess there's not a lot of point taking it further.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 01:50:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right, Helen.  Never mind that whole "perhaps you might acknowledge that you have made some offensive statements" thing, what I really meant was clearly that you're a racist imperialist running dog lackey.  You read my mind.  And It's All My Fault.  I'm a big meanie.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 01:55:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Egyptology contains an unhealthy dose of orientalism, too.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 10:21:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know as I'm not a historian and so somewhat removed from the internicine rivalries that litter and disfigure academic discourse..

That said, one of the biggest of Said's criticisms of Orientalism is that it takes an area as large as the Middle East and imposes a cultural homogeneity upon it, usually comprising extreme examples of exotica that are re-formed into a supposed norm. Unfortunately Said did much the same in reverse; imagining a "western" view that remains consistent across 3 centuries and two continents comprising many countries with differing interests and agenda.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 10:46:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that simplifies Said's view of Western Orientalism. Meanwhile, it leaves out an agenda Said named explicitely: imperialism. Orientalism was often the science to "know" the people to be ruled, and often the very act of defining the subjugated culture meant power over them -- by channeling the thinking of both coloniser and colonised.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:36:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Anybody knows was she brought to Berlin legally? Otherwise German museum's case is very weak. Notwithstanding Zani Hawass bright personality looted artefacts should be returned to countries where they were stolen.
by FarEasterner on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 09:40:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's the Egyptian official version:

The bust of Nefertiti was unearthed in 1912 by the German excavator Ludwig Borchardt, and is considered to be the most famous work of art from Ancient Egypt. Hawass says that Borchardt, anxious to preserve the bust for Germany, took advantage of the practice at the time of splitting the spoils of any new discovery between the Egyptian Antiquities Authority and the foreign mission concerned. In those days the law required discoveries to be brought to what was then the Antiquities Service, where a special committee supervised the distribution. Borchardt, who discovered the head at Tel Al-Amarna, did not declare the bust and hid it under less important objects. The Egyptian authorities failed to recognise its beauty and importance. According to Borchardt himself, he did not clean the bust but left it covered in mud when he took it to the Egyptian Museum for the usual division of spoils. The service, on that occasion, took the limestone statues of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, and gave the head of Queen Nefertiti to the expedition because it was made of gypsum -- or so they thought.

There were those who said that Borchardt had disguised the head, covering it with a layer of gypsum to ensure that the committee would not see its beauty or realise that it was actually made of beautifully painted limestone. Whatever happened, the antiquities authorities did not learn about the bust until it was put on show in Berlin's Egyptian Museum in 1923, and had certainly never expressly agreed that this piece should be included in the German share of the Tel Al-Amarna finds.

Ever since the earliest days of cultural property legislation, the principle has been that the country of origin must expressly permit the export of every single national cultural treasure. With respect to the bust of Nefertiti, the Egyptian authorities did not give that permission.

To be taken with a grain of salt, as one takes the official version of everything in Egypt....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 10:01:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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