Egyptologist Monica Hanna Wins SAFE Beacon Award
By Kate Durham
Egyptologist Dr. Monica Hanna has been named the 2014 recipient of the SAFE Beacon Award, in honor of her work with the Egyptian Heritage Task Force (EHTF) to publicize looting at Egypt’s archaeology and heritage sites. Hanna, one of Egypt Today’s People of the Year in the December 2013 print edition, co-founded EHTF this year as a grassroots network of citizen watchdogs to report encroachments against the sites.
“The work of Monica Hanna is bringing about change in effectively cutting off the supply side of the illicit antiquities trade,” says Cindy Ho, founder of the non-profit advocacy organization Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE www.savingantiquities.org/) . “While the information from an ancient site that has been disturbed by looters can never be recovered, Dr. Hanna is consistent and steadfast in her documentation and tireless in her efforts to curb the destruction of cultural heritage.”
SAFE is a coalition of communications professionals working with academic, legal and law enforcement experts to raise awareness about threats to cultural heritage worldwide and the illicit antiquities trade. Noting Hanna’s nearly 21,000 Twitter followers, Ho lauds the archeologist’s use of social media to “update us virtually in real time, and I believe that this aspect of her work is making an unprecedented impact. Certainly, it must have helped speed up the recovery of stolen objects, if not made it possible. After all, when she and her colleagues published archival photographs of all the objects looted from the Mallawi Museum the very morning following the theft, what chance does a smuggler have?”
Though Hanna, 30, is receiving the spotlight, she says it’s the people living near the antiquities sites that are the power behind EHTF. “Some of them do [have a connection to their heritage] and some of them really care. […] We as the Egypt Heritage Task Force, we have a lot of support from a lot of people. And surprisingly a lot of people from within the Ministry [of State for Antiquities Affairs] are being supportive,” she says. “It’s a large team. Some are actively working, some are helping from behind the scenes. It’s like an underground movement.”
At the core of the EHTF are 15 Egyptian and foreign Egyptologists, Hanna explains, adding, “The main people are Mennatallah Al Dorra, Sally Suleiman, Marwa Zeiny, Omneya Abdel Bar.” Concerned citizens can alert the task force via its Facebook page www.facebook.com/EgyptsHeritageTaskForce, email email@example.com or call +2 (011) 4440-9974. After EHTF members confirm the violations, Hanna shares the information with the Antiquities Ministry, which has the authority to protect sites and recover stolen artifacts.
In addition to citizen support, the EHTF has also won the support of activists and lawyers, including the Egyptian Center for Human Rights. “It’s not just heritage in isolation,” Hanna explains. “We’re also linking that access to culture is a human right that Egyptians were deprived of.”
The US-based SAFE was founded in 2003 in response to the looting of the National Museum of Iraq, and has since recognized 14 authors, journalists, professors, law enforcement professionals, and archaeologists with SAFE Beacon awards. Hanna is the sole winner of the 2014 award and the youngest person ever to be honored by SAFE.