Send Cleopa­tra’s obelisk back, Bri­tain is told

▶ Egyp­tian ar­chae­ol­o­gist wants UK to re­store trea­sure ‘hid­den’ in Lon­don

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - TAY­LOR HEYMAN

One of Egypt’s most cel­e­brated ar­chae­ol­o­gists is call­ing for Lon­don to re­turn the Cleopa­tra’s Nee­dle obelisk on the banks of the Thames if the city will not re­store the mon­u­ment.

Zawi Hawass, a for­mer min­is­ter of state for an­tiq­ui­ties, told

The Na­tional the 21-me­tre obelisk should be the cen­tre­piece of a bi­na­tional cel­e­bra­tion next year to en­sure the pub­lic is more aware of its his­tory.

Cleopa­tra’s Nee­dle is one of two obelisks given to the UK and US by the Khe­dive Muham­mad Ali Pasha in 1819.

Its Amer­i­can twin is in New York’s Cen­tral Park but the Lon­don ver­sion stands in an unloved part of the Vic­to­ria em­bank­ment.

Next year will be the 200th an­niver­sary of the Khe­dive’s gifts.

It was given to com­mem­o­rate Lord Nel­son and Sir Ralph Aber­crom­bie’s vic­to­ries over the French in the bat­tles of the Nile and Alexan­dria dur­ing the Napoleonic Wars.

Al­though it was of­fi­cially granted to the UK in 1819, it took an­other 59 years to start to trans­port the 224-tonne stone from Alexan­dria to the UK.

Dur­ing the jour­ney it was al­most lost in a storm at sea but was even­tu­ally placed in its po­si­tion in Septem­ber 1878.

The obelisk was orig­i­nally made for Pharaoh Thotmes III in 1460BC.

It was re­stored in 2005 but since then, Dr Hawass says, it has been for­got­ten.

“I don’t be­lieve, as an ar­chae­ol­o­gist, that any squares in Egypt or out­side of Egypt should have pharaonic stat­ues or obelisks, it’s bad,” he told The Na­tional.

“The lo­ca­tion should be in a tem­ple or mu­seum, not in a square.

“But if it is in a square, it should be treated nicely. I went to see it yes­ter­day and I was ashamed.”

Dr Hawass would also like the govern­ment to come up with a site man­age­ment pro­gramme to al­low the obelisk to be seen by the pub­lic and to cel­e­brate the bi­cen­te­nary.

“If they don’t care, they should re­turn it,” he said.

But Dr Hawass con­sid­ered re­turn­ing the obelisk a last op­tion be­cause he be­lieved the English peo­ple de­served to have it.

“The English, they care about the pharaohs, they care about an­cient Egypt,” he said.

“I can see that from my lec­tures and the emails I re­ceive. I am ex­ca­vat­ing now in the Val­ley of the Kings and I see many English tourists and I see the love in their hearts.”

Dr Hawass has not spo­ken to UK of­fi­cials about the obelisk but says he is sub­mit­ting a re­port on the is­sue to the Min­is­ter of An­tiq­ui­ties in Egypt, ask­ing him to write to the Lon­don mayor’s of­fice with his sug­ges­tions.

Ye­hia Segini, who is part of a group try­ing to pre­serve Alexan­dria’s colo­nial-era her­itage, is an­other cam­paign­ing for a com­mem­o­ra­tion of the bi­cen­te­nary of the gift.

Mr Segini is rais­ing funds to build a replica of Cleopa­tra’s nee­dle to be placed where the orig­i­nal once stood in Alexan­dria, and a cel­e­bra­tion at both mon­u­ments to com­mem­o­rate the gift.

“The com­mon peo­ple need a more vis­i­ble and tan­gi­ble way by which they can start to think of the West as a friend rather than foe,” Dr Segini wrote in a let­ter to Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan, re­quest­ing his back­ing for the project in Au­gust.

“Sym­bolic acts may be more valu­able now than ever.”

This is not the first time Dr Hawass has crit­i­cised the way Egyp­tian arte­facts have been dis­played in the UK.

When the Bri­tish Mu­seum dis­played foot­baller Mo Salah’s boots along­side pharaonic arte­facts, Dr Hawass said: “If the Bri­tish Mu­seum wanted to hon­our Salah, it should have built a mu­seum for him or put the shoe in a spe­cial room”.

He said that the de­ci­sion to place the boots next to the an­tiq­ui­ties was “com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate”.

Next year will be the 200th an­niver­sary of the gift by Khe­dive Muham­mad Ali Pasha

AFP; Getty; Alamy

From top, Egyp­tian ar­chae­ol­o­gist and for­mer min­is­ter of an­tiq­ui­ties Zawi Hawass near the Giza Pyra­mids last year; Cleopa­tra’s Nee­dle is en­cased for its sea jour­ney from Egypt to Lon­don in 1877; and the obelisk next to the river Thames in Lon­don

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