Egyptians demand that the British Museum hand over the Rosetta Stone
Egyptians demand that the British Museum hand over the Rosetta Stone

Cairo: Disputes over who owns ancient artifacts have become a major problem for museums in Europe and America, and have focused attention on the Rosetta Stone, which receives the most visitors to the British Museum.

After the black granite slab was taken from Egypt by the British Royal Army in 1801, its writing proved to be the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Thousands of Egyptologists are now demanding the return of the stone as Britain's biggest museum celebrates the 200th anniversary of the decipherment of the hieroglyphs.

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According to Monica Hanna, dean of the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport and coordinator of one of two petitions demanding the return of the stone, the British Museum's possession of the stone is a symbol of Western cultural violence against Egypt.

Imperial conflicts between Britain and France had an impact on the acquisition of the Rosetta Stone. French archaeologists discovered the stone in 1799 in the northern city of Rashid, also known as Rosetta in French after Napoleon Bonaparte's military occupation of Egypt.

The stone and more than a dozen other artifacts were given to the British in accordance with the terms of the surrender agreement of 1801 between the generals of both sides after British forces defeated the French in Egypt.

Since then it has been in the British Museum.
According to Hanna's petition, which has 4,200 signatures, the stone was taken illegally and is "spoils of war".

The claim is supported by a petition with over 100,000 signatures that was started by Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Antiquities Minister and is almost verbatim in content.

According to Hawass, Egypt had no contribution to the agreement of 1801.
This is disputed by the British Museum.

An Egyptian representative signed the treaty of 1801, according to a statement from the museum. An Ottoman admiral who fought alongside the British against the French is referred to in this phrase. When Napoleon invaded, the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul was apparently in charge of Egypt.

The museum said no request has been made by the Egyptian government for its return. It is also mentioned that of the 28 known copies of the same inscribed decree, 21 are still in Egypt.

The original stone copy is in dispute due to its unique significance for Egyptology. The slab, which was carved in the 2nd century BC, contains three translations of a decree relating to an agreement between a group of Egyptian priests and the then ruler Ptolemy.

The first inscription is written in traditional hieroglyphs, the second in a streamlined form of hieroglyphs called Demotic, and the third in Ancient Greek.

Academics were able to decipher the hieroglyphic symbols through later use, with the French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion finally deciphering the language in 1822.

According to Ilona Regulski, curator of Egyptian written culture at the British Museum, "scholars from the last 18th century yearned to find a bilingual text written in a known language."

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The museum's winter exhibition, "Hieroglyphs Unlocking Ancient Egypt", which commemorates Champollion's discovery 200 years ago, is being organized by Regulski.

The stone is one of over 100,000 artifacts from Egypt and Sudan that are housed in the British Museum. The majority was achieved between 1883 and 1953, when Britain ruled the region as a colonial power.

Museums and collectors are increasingly returning artifacts to their countries of origin; New cases are now being reported almost every month. While some cases are voluntary and reflect an act of atonement for past wrongs, most are the result of a court order.

After a US investigation determined that 16 antiquities had been illegally smuggled in, the Metropolitan Museum in New York returned them to Egypt in September. Following a request from Nigeria's government, the Horniman Museum in London on Monday signed over 72 objects, including 12 Benin bronzes.

According to Boston-based attorney Nicholas Donnell, there is no universally accepted international legal framework for such disputes focusing on matters involving works of art and artifacts.

Repatriation is largely at the discretion of the owner unless there is unmistakable proof that an artwork was obtained illegally.

According to Donnell, "Given the treaty and the time frame, Rosetta Stone is an uphill legal battle to win."

The British Museum has acknowledged receiving several repatriation requests for artifacts from various nations, but it did not provide The Associated Press with any information on the status or volume of these requests. It also declined to say whether it had ever returned a piece of its collection to its country of origin.

The lack of transparency at the museum suggests other goals, in Nigel Hetherington's opinion, who is also the CEO of the online academic community Past Preserves and an archaeologist.
It has to do with money, staying relevant, and a worry that people won't come if certain items are returned, he said.

Western museums have long justified their collection of world treasures by citing better infrastructure and higher visitor numbers. 

Egypt experienced an increase in artefact smuggling during the unrest that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, which cost the nation an estimated $3 billion between 2011 and 2013, according to the US-based Antiquities Coalition. 

Cleaning staff at Cairo's Egyptian Museum were found to have harmed Pharaoh Tutankhamun's burial mask by attempting to reattach the beard with super glue in 2015.

The government of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has since made significant investments in the country's antiquities, though. Egypt has successfully recovered thousands of illegally exported artefacts, and it has plans to open a brand-new, cutting-edge museum that will have space for tens of thousands of items. There have been numerous opening-day delays for the Grand Egyptian Museum during its more than ten years of construction.

The abundance of historical sites in Egypt, including the Giza Pyramids and the towering statues of Abu Simbel near the border with Sudan, is the driving force behind the country's $13 billion tourism industry in 2021.

Hanna believes that Egyptians' access to their own history should always come first. She asked, "How many Egyptians can go to London or New York?"

An inquiry about Egypt's stance on the Rosetta Stone and other Egyptian artefacts on display abroad received no response from Egyptian authorities. In order to secure its return, Hawass and Hanna said they are not placing their hopes in the government.

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According to Hawass, "The Rosetta Stone is the icon of Egyptian identity." I'll tell the (British) museum they have no right by using the media and intellectuals,

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