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British Museum urged to drop BP sponsorship deal for exhibition in Egypt

Activists including musician Brian Eno, author Ahdaf Soueif and actress Miriam Margolyes have criticized BP’s sponsorship of an exhibition of Egyptian artefacts at the British Museum.

The exhibit opens shortly before the critical Cop27 climate summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el Sheikh in November.

Activists say ‘BP has worked closely with successive governments and regimes in Egypt’ and laws restricting free speech and protest rights have negated any potential pushback against BP’s fossil fuel extraction projects in Egypt. the country.

In an open letter from Culture Unstained, a campaign group that focuses on links between fossil fuel companies and the arts sector, to the British Museum signed by Eno, Soueif and Margolyes among others, the group said the institution “should not celebrate Egypt’s cultural past”. while ignoring the current human rights situation or the climate impacts that Egypt will face in the future.”

Culture Unstained protested the opening of the exhibition by reading excerpts from You Have Not Yet Been Defeated, a book of essays by imprisoned British-Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who will complete a 200-day hunger strike to protest his conditions of detention in the weeks leading up to Cop27. Abd El-Fattah, a leading figure in Egypt’s 2011 uprising, recently warned his family that he expected to die behind bars.

The British Museum, home to many ancient Egyptian treasures set to be displayed as part of a hieroglyphics exhibition, including the Rosetta Stone, has drawn widespread criticism for its ties to BP since the British multinational of Fossil Fuels began sponsoring the museum in 2016, including its own staff.

BP has strong business ties with Egypt, in part due to the country’s large natural gas reserves. An Egyptian government visiting report earlier this year between BP Chief Executive Bernard Looney and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi described how Looney had praised the president’s “shrewd leadership and ambitious vision”.

Since coming to power in a military coup in 2013, Sisi has overseen a deep crackdown on free speech and human rights. Under his rule, public dissent is virtually banned, although Egypt has tentatively said it will allow protests during COP27 in an area adjacent to the conference center.

In the period following the coup that brought Sisi to power, BP announced an exploration project worth $240m (£215m), and he has since established a deep involvement in at least two key Egyptian natural gas fields in the Mediterranean.

This includes natural gas projects in the town of Idku near the Egyptian coast, which sparked protests before Sisi came to power that were quashed after the coup. “BP sponsoring this exhibition is playing into an image that the Egyptian regime would like us to buy into, and helping BP to present its expanding gas operations in Egypt in a positive light,” said Chris Garrard of Culture Unstained. “But we know the communities there have resisted and opposed this on the ground, and we want to shine a light on what they have done.”

Garrard said his organization sought to provide a platform for protests that could not take place in Egypt, particularly around the fate of Abd El-Fattah, despite the exhibit aiming to focus on Egypt’s distant past. Egypt. “I think the responsibility of those of us in the UK is to think critically, we learn about ancient Egypt and the pyramids in school, but we have to look beyond that,” he said. he declared.

The British Museum told the Guardian: “BP has been a long-standing corporate partner, and their current contract with us runs until 2023. Museums now have a mixed funding model and we need money from corporate and private to fulfill our public mission, to provide unique learning experiences. . The last two years have shown how precarious the financial situation can be. Support from the corporate sector is essential for museums and arts organizations in times of reduced funding. This support means we can successfully plan long-term exhibitions and provide public benefit to millions of people. »

David Nicholas, BP spokesperson, said: “BP has supported the British Museum for over 25 years – this includes supporting around 20 special exhibitions as well as exhibitions and traveling exhibitions, covering a wide variety of subjects. And we’ve been operating in Egypt for nearly 60 years, supporting Egypt’s growing energy demand and being one of the largest investors in its energy industry. Author Omar Robert Hamilton, one of the signatories of Culture Unstained’s letter to the British Museum and a cousin of Abd El-Fattah, said: “The Egyptian regime relies heavily on the country’s ancient past to hide its current horrors. BP, on the other hand, is working hard to rewrite its past to obscure future horrors. The British Museum seems happy to help on both fronts and has long been a useful accomplice in clearing both reputations.

Egypt is due to host the UN conference of parties, or COP27, in early November. “As host of the summit, the Egyptian government seeks to portray itself as a progressive leader on climate change. In fact, the ongoing violent crackdown and restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression severely undermine meaningful civil society participation at the summit,” Culture Unstained said.

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