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How do we return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt?

Echoes of the letter demanding the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum and the roof of the heavenly constellations known as the Dendera zodiac from the Louvre Museum, which I posted online and asked all honest people in the world to sign it, continue to shake the whole world – especially cultural circles.

The issue of antiquities looted from countries and its peoples during the last colonial era has returned once again to the table of discussions and dialogue in universities and cultural centers.

It is strange that we find in our country someone who comes forward to say that the campaign that Zahi Hawass is launching to recover the Rosetta Stone is useless! Even though this same person created a document that was signed by 400 students.

I am not writing this to attack this person or anyone else, but we must understand the reality, importance and benefit to us as Egyptians, of the campaign I am conducting to demand the return of the Rosetta Stone.

There are two documents – the first is public, signed by many Egyptians and foreigners from different countries like Italy, US, UK, France, Canada and others, and is intended to create popular pressure on the British Museum.

The second document was made in agreement with lawyer Jihan al-Husseini, a British legal advisor of Egyptian origin, residing in the UK.

I contacted her, and we issued the following statement:

“In continuation of our public campaign to recover our Egyptian antiquities, foremost of which is the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum, we redirected and launched the campaign to demand the recovery of the Egyptian antiquities from the UK.

Counselor Husseini will submit a legal petition to the British Parliament, asking it to discuss amending the law on the recovery of antiquities from the UK, in accordance with the steps followed in the parliament.

The petition was accepted by Parliament on February 6, and should be published on its official website to collect signatures.

Legally, the Parliament does not discuss any request to amend the law unless it is submitted by one of its members or through a petition bearing the signature of one hundred thousand citizens who hold British nationality or permanent residence in the UK.

The only way to return our artifacts is to amend the British law on the recovery of antiquities, which prevents the management of the British Museum from responding to any request from other countries to return antiquities that were taken unjustly or illegally.

In order to have an opportunity to discuss amending the law in Parliament, the petition must bear the signatures of 100,000 Britons.

Hence, I insist on the continuation and success of our popular campaign to retrieve our Egyptian antiquities, topmost of which is the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum.

We still have a chance, and we appeal to all Egyptian and Arab citizens who hold British nationality or residency in the UK to sign the petition, through this link.

We would like to assure all our Egyptian and Arab brothers in the UK that the signing does not take more than two minutes.

Just click on the link, and when you enter the Parliament page, you write your name and e-mail, then a message will be sent to your e-mail in order for you to click on the link sent via the e-mail.

The value of your signature on the document is much greater than you can imagine! It contributes to recovering an important Egyptian artifact, the Rosetta Stone, an icon of our civilization and history.

In fact, we are facing a challenge to find out the extent of the influence of British people of Arab descent.”

This was what we published and will be republished. It is nice that many Egyptian media figures have taken an interest in this topic, including the brilliant journalists Amr Adib and Sayed Ali.

We expect that the required number will be completed soon, so we can revive the issue of recovering our looted antiquities.

Professor Laila Takla called me, and told me that Samir Takla is an Egyptian citizen living in London. He is also known amongst Egyptians, and she said he is in contact with many members of the British House of Commons, and will ask one of the members to submit a request to change the law.

This is indeed an honorable example of people working in silence and without clamor for the interest of their countries.

I am well aware that they do so out of their belief in the justice of our cause and our inherent right to remove all forms of colonialism, which still exist and from which we suffer to this day, as evidenced by the presence of thousands of artifacts and treasures in the museums of colonial countries.

I believe that there is a need for everyone to unite to return of our looted antiquities. This requires the amateurs of fame to stay away from the scene to search for what they call a trend!

I met a few weeks ago with a tourist group from Peru, and I was surprised by the members of the group asking me: “Will you be able to return the Rosetta Stone, as you previously returned to us from the US antiquities belonging to our Machu Picchu civilization?! We would like to know more information about the Rosetta Stone.”

Regarding the return of Peruvian artifacts, the Peruvian foreign minister came to Egypt and asked to meet me.

He told me a nice story, saying that many years ago Peru sent many important artifacts discovered at the famous archaeological area of Machu Picchu on loan to Yale University, because they dug in this site.

After that, they requested to return the antiquities to Peru, and were surprised at Yale University refusing to return these antiquities, so they repeated the request more than once, until it reached the point that they stopped responding!

He said: “I know that you have a long history in the return of your antiquities. Can you help us?”

I told him: “This is very easy, but you need to do what exactly I will tell you. As soon as you return to Peru, ask your office manager to announce that the Foreign Minister will hold a press conference tomorrow, so as to announce that the Peruvian government will file a case against the President of Yale University, and the name of the university president shall be written, because the university refused to return the antiquities which were borrowed.

Announce that the case will be brought at Yale, where the university is.”

I told him that university presidents in the US are very afraid that a foreign country will file a case against them, which would harm their scientific reputation.

Therefore, before you hold the press conference, the president of the university will contact you, and he will return to you the antiquities that he borrowed.

Indeed, the minister returned to his country, and he carried what I told him.

The president of the university then called him, and the artifacts were returned, after which President Alan García sent me a letter requesting to honor me.

I went to Peru, and they held a huge celebration at the Republican Palace, where I was awarded the highest honor there – the Order of the Rising Sun.

As for the story of the Rosetta Stone, it goes back to Napoleon’s arrival at the head of French campaign to Egypt, on May 19, 1798.

He did not know that this campaign would benefit the history and civilization of Egypt. Despite its military failure, it opened a door to unveiling the secrets of the civilization of Egypt, through deciphering hieroglyphs.

At the same time, the scientists that accompanied the campaign had collected thousands of artifacts.

But the surrender treaty between the French and the English, which was signed by General Menou, in Alexandria, had among its clauses handing over the antiquities in the possession of the campaign, including the Rosetta Stone, to the British.

Therefore, it was sent to the British Museum.

The French had a sense of the importance of this stone, so they sent it to the scientific complex established there by Napoleon, where they made copies of the stone, after which many scientists tried to decipher its symbols.

In the end, Jean-François Champollion was able to solve the hieroglyphs of the Rosetta Stone, which was found in the Rosetta Castle, and it became clear to the scientists at the beginning, as they read the lower part of the stone written in the Greek language, that it was a decree from King Ptolemy V, issued in 156 BC, in favor of the Egyptian priests of Canopus.

The decree specified the exemptions and gifts granted by King Ptolemy to the priests.

A royal order was issued that this decree be written in the sacred writing of the Pharaohs, which is hieroglyphics, demotic script, and the Greek language. The secrets of the Rosetta Stone were revealed nearly twenty years after the stone was discovered.

The young scholar Champollion had discovered the ancient Egyptian language.

The French scientist was born in the south of France in the year 1790AD. Before him, the English scientist Thomas Young came to know many hieroglyphic signs by using the name ‘Ptolemy’ written in Greek.

Therefore, September 14, 1822 is considered the most important day for Egyptian antiquities, as it is the day where the secrets of the Rosetta Stone were discovered.

Egyptology became taught in many universities in countries all over the world. Museums were established, and antiquities thieves, with the help of the consuls of foreign countries, were able to loot the treasures and artifacts of the Nile River.

What happened in the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century is tantamount to the usurpation of a great civilization.

Statues, obelisks, paintings, ornaments, pieces of cemetery furniture, and even mummies themselves, were stolen and transported to colonial countries to be sold at auctions to the rich or museum departments, and an important part of our history and civilization was lost.

We acknowledge that there are foreign scholars who had a role in preserving the antiquities of Egypt, including Drioton, Maspero, Boksh, Lauret, and Père Laco, who contributed to the emergence of a law that forbids dividing the discovered antiquities between the foreign mission and the Egyptian Museum in the event that the antiquities are from an intact tomb or represent an integrated collection that should not be divided.

The cause will remain, and we will continue to demand the return of our antiquities until the day we recover them.

If they have violated our civilization, then the least thing in my opinion is that they must bear us when we tell them every day: Your insistence on keeping antiquities stolen from our country makes you original accomplices in the theft, and contributes to continuing the impact of hateful colonialism.

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