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Antiquities Coalition Warns that Political Unrest Continues to Threaten Cultural Heritage Across the Middle East and North Africa

March 13, 2019

Statement Follows Reported Looting and Vandalism of Algeria’s Oldest Museum

WASHINGTON, DC, March 12, 2019 — The Antiquities Coalition commends the immediate response of the Algerian people and government to the recent looting and vandalism of the National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts during the mass political protests now rocking the country.

According to Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi, on March 8, 2019, thieves used the otherwise peaceful demonstrations as cover to steal 19th-century pistols and swords, which helped tell the story of Algeria’s resistance to French occupation. Administrative offices containing important records and other documents were also ransacked and burned. Created in 1897, the museum is the oldest in the country and includes art and artifacts spanning 2,500 years of Algeria’s rich history. The ministry described the damage to the building, its collection, and archives as “a crime” against Algeria ’s heritage.

The government reports that police have now recovered all the stolen objects, and stands united with the Algerian people in strong condemnation of the recent attacks. However, the incident highlights the ongoing risks of cultural racketeering during political unrest, which has plagued the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 Arab Spring. For example, during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, brave citizens linked hands to form a human chain around the Cairo Museum to protect it from similar pillage and harm.

On June 13, 2018, the Department of State announced that the Government of Algeria has requested a bilateral agreement with the United States, which would impose U.S. import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from the country, while increasing responsible cultural exchange. The State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee met to consider this request from July 31 to August 2 of last year. The recent threats to the National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts demonstrate that the United States can do much to support Algeria in its work to protect its rich heritage both for its citizens and those of the world. We encourage the State Department to move quickly on Algeria’s request.