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Egyptian “Archaeologists’ Syndicate” Calls for Expulsion of Foreign Researchers

by Mostafa Heddaya on August 16, 2013

Part of the Karnak Temple complex in Egypt. (image via flickr.com/argenberg)

Part of the Karnak Temple complex in Egypt. (image via flickr.com/argenberg)

In a show of scholarly inquiry turned jingoistic battleground, the Egyptian Archaeologists’ Syndicate has demanded that foreign researchers and foreign institutions be expelled from the country. According to a report published earlier today in the country’s English-language Ahram Online, Syndicate Coordinator Salah El-Hadi specifically called on all foreign scholars, researchers, and cultural workers — of which there are many in Egypt — to be ejected due to the international community’s apparent refusal to acknowledge Muslim Brotherhood “terrorism”:

Foreign archaeological and cultural institutes – again, emphasising American institutions, with the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE) and the Chicago House mentioned by name – should be cut off because of their country’s support of “terrorism,” i.e. the Brotherhood’s recent actions.

Yet the minimally-sourced Ahram piece, which is headlined “Egyptian archaeologists demand countries mind their own business,” seems at best exaggerated and at worst suspicious given the both the history of the Syndicate, which was founded in 2011 and led by an American University in Cairo professor, and its specious claim to speak on behalf of “Egyptian archaeologists.”

Reached by phone this afternoon, a former member of the Supreme Council of Antiquities spoke to Hyperallergic on condition of anonymity, commenting that the demand is disappointing and symbolically shocking, though he doubts that the Syndicate, which was formed in 2011, has any legitimate standing to make this claim of the Ministry of State Antiquities. He added that should such an action go through, it would mark the first time since the 1956 Suez Canal crisis that non-state foreign intellectuals have been ejected from the country, and would mark a grave devolution in Egypt’s intellectual life. Among the institutions temporarily shuttered during that period was the Jules Ferry-founded Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale. Our source reiterated, however, that these types of announcements tend to grandstanding rhetoric and are fairly removed from any possible or substantive policy threat.

Furthermore, according to a July 2011 Q&A published in the Egypt Independent, Faiza Heykal, the Syndicate’s first head and a professor at the American University in Cairo, appears by the virtue of her post at the American university and the evenhandedness of her remarks (“This is how people act nowadays; they do a counter act to everything. Again, if it’s legal, then I don’t mind.”) to have been elected to lead an organization whose membership would back the reactionary and jingoistic demands Salah El-Hadi is calling for. Somewhat ironically, El-Hadi was previously quoted arguing for the autonomy and independence of the archaeological community during the Culture Ministry’s occupation by protesting artists and intellectuals earlier this year.

Taken along with the looting of a small museum in Upper Egypt today, this is but the latest drama to afflict Egypt’s antiquities and cultural administrations, which since the fall of Mubarak have been beset by the dual threats of Mubarak-era holdovers like Zahi Hawass, Muslim Brotherhood-backed cronyism (as exemplified by Morsi’s appointment of culture minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz, who in the eyes of many observers lacked the appropriate qualifications for the position), and the sort of bureaucratic in-fighting discussed by Faiza Heykal in the aforementioned interview.

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