In a recent press conference in Cairo, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh al-Damati unveiled the details of seizing 249 pieces of antique jewellery that had belonged to members of the Alawite Dynasty, the monarchs who ruled Egypt from 1805 till 1953 when the country was declared a republic. The jewellery seized included a collection of intricate works of gold, precious stones and diamond pieces, among them a rare 45-carat diamond; the third biggest in the world.
The antiquities police seized the pieces in two lots. The first lot comprised 139 pieces of jewellery that had been sold to a Qatari trader for EGP100 million. Pictures of the jewellery had been secretly circulated in an attempt to find a buyer, preferably from a Gulf country. These pictures raised the suspicions of the antiquities police who got wind of them and ultimately traced the deal.
The sale of the second lot was attempted through an advertisement on the State-owned Cairo daily al-Ahram that announced the sale by auction of a collection of 110 pieces of jewellery deposited in Banque Misr as guarantee for a loan taken by an Egyptian businessman. Again, the advertisement raised the suspicions of the antiquities police; they investigated the matter and found out that the jewellery belonged to members of Egypt’s monarchy and are thus considered as national heritage.
When the monarchy was overthrown in 1953, a large part of royal property, including jewellery, became State property and were moved to museums. Some pieces, however, remained the private property of the royal members. Today, however, they are seen as national heritage.
Investigations are ongoing as to the legality of the sale of the jewellery, and the attempt to smuggle a collection outside the country.
A few days ago saw the thwarting of an attempt to smuggle 98 pieces of antiquity through Dumyat port in a shipment headed for the United States.
These were big pieces of wooden wall panels, chandeliers, tables, columns and column capitals and suchlike, all decorated with special designs that mostly carried the coat of arms of the Alawite Dynasty. Officials at the Ministry of Antiquities refused to answer questions on where the huge pieces came from or how they had been on their way outside Egypt, saying that an investigation was being conducted and they were waiting for the results.