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United States and Bahrain Strengthen Bilateral Ties to Fight Against the Illicit Trade in Cultural Property

September 3, 2021

Closed-Door Workshop Links International Experts to Discuss How Governments Can Work Together to Fight Cultural Racketeering 

The Antiquities Coalition, in close collaboration with the U.S. Department of State and the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, was honored to host a virtual closed-door workshop on strengthening international cooperation in the fight against the looting and trafficking of cultural property earlier this month. 

BACA Culture and Arts Director General Shaikha Hala bint Mohammed Al Khalifa opened the workshop, saying that the effort “…represents the start of a long-term endeavour to bolster global co-operation in preserving cultural heritage for various societies.”

This event was one part of a wider online forum to promote mutual understanding between the United States, still the heart of the global art and antiquities world, and Bahrain, which is quickly becoming one of its more important players.

The Middle East and North Africa, with its rich and diverse history, has much to lose from this cultural racketeering. Daesh has made front-page headlines for its pillage of the Cradle of Civilization, but the threat goes far beyond Iraq and Syria. International experts continue to warn that antiquities looting and trafficking is funding terrorist groups including Daesh in Libya, and Al Qaeda and the Houthi militias in Yemen. Moreover, this terrorist financing often goes hand-in-hand with money laundering and other financial crimes, to which the art market is also particularly vulnerable. Art market leaders, the banking industry, and governments have increasingly recognized the growing risks from this criminal activity, calling for strengthened best practices and legislation to fight back while better protecting legitimate collectors, museums, and market actors. 

The United States is in a unique position to make a difference, as it remains the world’s largest art market, making up 42% of the global total. However, with the creation of new and prominent museums, a booming art market, and a strong push for cultural tourism, the Gulf States are quickly becoming key players. In particular, with strong ministerial leadership from the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, Bahrain is now enjoying a prominent role in the art world, serving as the host of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage. With its close global ties and effective regional diplomacy, the kingdom is well positioned to become a leader in the global fight against the illicit trafficking of art and artifacts.

The Antiquities Coalition commends the United States government and the Kingdom of Bahrain for their leadership in safeguarding our shared cultural heritage.