Monday, August 26, 2013

Against Despair Over the Looting in Egypt

I am hearing a lot of despair being expressed, on facebook and elsewhere, about our inability to do anything to stop the destruction of cultural heritage in Egypt as elsewhere -- even from people as otherwise optimistic as the great folks engaged with the Sustainable Preservation Initiative. After all, if one cannot protect human lives, how could one protect sites and museums? And if all that international organizations like UNESCO can do is to issue one more statement deploring what is happening, what else can we do?

We can do a lot more actually, and SPI helps point the way, though of course SPI-like initiatives in these countries in chaos are impossible. The key point of SPI, though, is the taking-responsibility by non-governmental groups, and that has to happen here as well -- in spades, since the government has abandoned or lost the ability to fulfill its responsibilities.

So with that as the principle here are a few things that could be done:

  • Non-Egyptians could help by finding ways to donate to Egyptians like Monica Hanna, Save El Hibbeh and other facebook groups, etc. who are mobiizing Egyptian citizens to take direct action where possible; 
  • We could raise money to pay for remote site monitoring to at least make sure the world is aware of what is going on; 
  • We could push much harder for a worlwide emergency ban like the one UN Resolution 1483 imposed on Iraqi materials; 
  • We could help foster longterm growth of both SPI-like and citizen-led emergency site protection groups in countries where breakdown, revolution, or invasion seems possible (UNESCO is doing something like this but working with governments not with NGOs incountry);
  • We could explore ways to tap into the military-to-military friendships that one supposes must exist given the decades of joint exercises, to see if there might be some way to appeal individually to officers there who are in the right position to move some forces onto sites. 

These are action items, and I am sure there are others beyond this (please chime in anyone). But they take energy, as well as financial resources, neither of which exist in anything like the amounts needed for the overall task of investing in sustainable site protection. What we need, above all, is a stable and substantial revenue stream that can feed and incentivize such efforts. SPI generates sustainable revenue streams but only at the local level and only so long as the government takes care of law and order more generally. Is there another market in things archaeological that is not the tourist market, a market that is not affected negatively by unrest or revolution as the tourist market is, a market that is legally protected and therefore could generate sustainable revenue streams, say via a tax or user-fee on purchases with proceeds funneled to support efforts like those above? Why yes! Guess what market that is.

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