Cairo’s criminal court will resume proceedings in an antiquity trafficking case today amid an Egyptian crackdown on artifact smuggling.
17 people—including a wealthy Egyptian businessman and a former member of parliament—are charged with excavating and smuggling over 200 artifacts abroad. The artifacts were sent to Europe, the Gulf States, and the US. Though antiquities trafficking has declined recently, it has been a problem in Egypt since the 2011 uprising weakened the tourism sector.
Egypt sees clamping down on antiquities trafficking as vital to stimulating its tourism industry, which accounts for 12 percent of GDP. In the last two months, Egypt signed separate antiquities-focused memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with Senegal, South Korea, and the US. Still, the tourism sector’s recovery is hampered by terrorism and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the importance of antiquities to Egypt’s tourism sector, expect most, if not all, of those charged to be sentenced to life imprisonment. expect Cairo to finalize MOUs with additional countries in the medium-term in expectation of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb and the opening of several leading archaeological sites. Long-term, protecting antiquities will provide Egypt with a central issue to unite its people around.
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Alan is an analyst with the Current Developments team, focusing on security and politics, particularly within the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and Africa. He contributes regularly to the Daily Brief.