The Egyptian embassy’s bid to buy a 4,500 year-old statue once on display in Northampton and save it being lost forever overseas is “gallant” but “unethical”, according to a Northampton action group.
On March 29, the temporary export ban on the Sekhemka statue, imposed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) will be lifted.
It means the mystery Qatari buyer who spent more than £15 million on the ancient Egyptian artefact at an auction in 2014 will be able to take the statue overseas - unless a party swoops in to buy it before then.
Last week it emerged the Egyptian embassy was trying to stump up funds to do just that, saying if it were successful it would loan Sekhemka to the British Museum for six months of the year and would keep it in Cairo for the rest.
But the Save Sekhemka Action Group says the Egyptian bid - led by ambassador Nasser Kamel - is unethical because it could set a dangerous precedent.
Chairman of the group Gunilla Loe said: “The Sekhemka Action Group has noted the gallant appeal by the Egyptian Ambassador to wealthy Egyptians asking them to raise funds to repurchase Sekhemka.”
But she went on to say: “However, the Save Sekhemka Action Group maintains that such a repurchase would be unethical and unhelpful since the statue should not have been sold in the first place.
“We also believe that a repurchase would send strong signals to other museums and institutions that selling a valuable artefact would be acceptable, since there would be the expectation that there will always be somebody who would stump up the cash to repurchase it.”
The Culture Minister’s decision to extend the export ban for Sekhemka, originally imposed in March 2015, marked an unprecedented step for the Government department.
It had never, since the export laws were brought in 1952, extended such a ban by a year to allow a UK purchaser to match the £15.76 million price.
But Mrs Loe says the export ban has been - effectively - toothless in stopping Sekhemka leaving UK shores as the Government has made no effort to reclaim the artefact.
She said; “This fact surely shows how totally unfit for purpose the current Export Ban system is.
“The secretary of state (Ed Vaizey) is able to impose a temporary export ban because an object is seen as of national importance, but can then happily sit back and do precisely nothing to ensure that such importance is being recognised by the object being saved for the nation.”
Mrs Loe says that despite years of fighting, the action group is now resigned to the fact Sekhemka could go overseas.
She said: “We are resigned to the likelihood that we will never see this wonderful statue again and that this stage of our fight to rescue Sekhemka and return him to a free public gallery is over.”
Mrs Loe said the action group may continue in a new form to protect other museum antiquities at threat.