Egyptian trustee resigns from British Museum over artefacts repatriation

Egyptian trustee resigns from British Museum over BP sponsorship, artefacts repatriation
2 min read
17 July, 2019
Ahdaf Soueif, a trustee since 2012, said her resignation was a "cumulative response" to the museum's take on important issues relating to the "less privileged".
Ahdaf Soueif has been a trustee since 2012 [Getty]

An Egyptian writer resigned as a trustee of the British Museum, citing the institution's sponsorship from oil giant BP and the repatriation of looted artefacts. 

Ahdaf Soueif, a trustee since 2012, said her resignation was a "cumulative response" to the museum's take on important issues relating to the "less privileged".

In a blogpost for the London Review of Books, Soueif urged the institution to take a "clear ethical position" on issues of "critical concern", which included sponsorship, worker relations and repatriation.

"Public cultural institutions have a responsibility: not only a professional one towards their work, but a moral one in the way they position themselves in relation to ethical and political questions," she said.

Soueif said that the money BP gives to support British Museum exhibitions, such as this year's Troy: Myth and Reality, could be attained elsewhere.

She suggested that the continued acceptance of such sponsorship was motivated by a desire not to "alienate a section of the business community".

Soueif said sponsorship mattered more to the museum "than the legitimate and pressing concerns of young people across the planet".

Soueif, whose books include the Man Booker shortlisted The Map of Love, also criticised the museum for "rarely speaking" on the vexed issue of repatriation, despite being in "a unique position to lead a conversation".

In response to her resignation, the museum's chair of trustees, Richard Lambert, said he has lost "a valued and very supportive trustee", adding that it was "unexpected" and a "sad moment".

He defended the museum's acceptance of BP sponsorship, which runs until 2023 under a deal between the two institutions.

"BP has made it possible for us to put on exhibitions which 4 million people have seen … We couldn’t have done without that support."

BP's sponsorship of the British Museum and other cultural institutions, including the Tate and the RSC, has prompted protests from environmental campaigners.

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