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The United States And The Arab Republic Of Egypt Sign Historic Agreement To Protect Cultural Heritage

December 1, 2016

First Cultural Heritage Memorandum of Understanding in Arab World Halts Import of Illicit Egyptian Antiquities and Cuts Off Source of Terrorist Financing

Today in Washington, DC, Secretary of State John Kerry and the Arab Republic of Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry signed the first memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cultural heritage preservation between the United States and an Arab nation. The Antiquities Coalition congratulates both countries for their dedication to protecting the world’s shared history—as well as cutting off a proven source of funding for violent extremist organizations.

The U.S. government has warned that Daesh has made millions of dollars looting and trafficking antiquities from the Middle East and North Africa. This bilateral agreement provides a legal basis for the United States to close its market to illicit antiquities from Egypt, which have been entering the market since the January 2011 Revolution. Our research shows that from 2011 to 2013, Egypt suffered over $3 billion in losses from antiquities looting and trafficking. In addition, it will encourage cooperation and exchange—including U.S. support for Egyptian museums, exhibitions, capacity building, and safeguarding Egypt’s cultural heritage—as well as increased antiquities loans from Egypt to U.S. museums.

“We commend this bold step by both countries to send a strong signal to violent extremist organizations that culture unites us and should not be used as a means to divide us,”  said Deborah Lehr, founder and Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. “Egypt’s leadership today will set an example for other countries in the region to take action to conclude similar agreements.”

As Secretary Kerry eloquently stated at the signing ceremony, “I think it’s a good moment for Egypt, the United States, for the region, for us to make it clear that these antiquities are priceless treasures that do not belong to traffickers and crooks and should not be sold illegally and bought by wealthy people to hide away somewhere. They are the antiquities that belong to the world, that have been protected and should be protected by an old civilization. And so I think this is a great step forward.”

Egypt has already incorporated heritage protection into its fight against violent extremism and its efforts to revitalize its economy through cultural tourism.  In 2015, Egypt hosted the first #CultureUnderThreat Conference, in partnership with the Antiquities Coalition, which brought together Ministers from ten Arab countries to focus on a regional effort to better cut off terrorist financing by stopping the illicit trade in so-called “blood antiquities.”

“We hope that it becomes a roadmap for the protection of these antiquities to preserve them for generations to come and to preserve them against the treachery of those who want to destroy them and to wipe out this commonality of our humanity,” said Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry.

With today’s agreement, the United States now has cultural memoranda of understanding with sixteen countries, and has imposed emergency actions with similar terms for Iraq and Syria. Such MOUs between demand (“market”) and supply (“source”) countries are a proven tool in discouraging the illicit trade in antiquities and benefit all parties. The restriction of imports of illicit cultural goods to the United States significantly constrains the global black market, given the U.S. position as a leading market for art and antiquities. From the U.S. perspective, MOUs also serve the U.S. interest in decreasing international criminal activity, while strengthening relationships with its allies.

About the Antiquities Coalition The Antiquities Coalition unites a diverse group of experts in the fight against cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in antiquities by organized criminals and terrorist organizations. This plunder for profit funds crime and conflict around the world—erasing our past and threatening our future. The Coalition’s innovative and practical solutions tackle crimes against heritage head on, empowering communities and countries in crisis. Learn more at


Contact: Sonam Deki
202.798.5245 (T), 202.768.9778 (C)