Tunisia tries to stop Paris online sale of royal artefacts

“I will not cede these objects to anyone for all the money in the world,” said cultural heritage chief Faouzi Mahfoudh.

Wednesday 03/06/2020
JUZ (part) of CORAN. A handwritten note on the first page giving several dates and stamped with the name of Mohamed el-Hadi Bey. (source: https://www.coutaubegarie.com)
JUZ (part) of CORAN. A handwritten note on the first page giving several dates and stamped with the name of Mohamed el-Hadi Bey. (source: https://www.coutaubegarie.com)

TUNIS –Tunisia’s National Heritage Institute (INP) and social media activists criticised the announcement of an auction of 114 pieces from Tunisia’s royal heritage to be held in a Paris.

Various royal dynasties ruled Tunisia until 1957, when the country became a republic.

In a press release posted Monday night on its Facebook page, the INP “shed light” on this case, which was reported in recent days by Tunisian media.

The head of Tunisia’s National Heritage Institute, Faouzi Mahfoudh, urged authorities Tuesday to block the sale of the Tunisian royal artefacts in France, saying they had been spirited out of the country.

More than 100 objects “of huge historical value were taken out of the country without any official authorisation in the second half of March amid the Coronavirus lockdown,” Faouzi noted.

The artefacts, which are private property, belonging to a Tunisian named Ahmed Jallouli who passed away in 2011, include an ancient Quran, which belonged to Mohamed el-Moncef Bey, one of the last rulers of the Husseinite monarchy that reigned in Tunisia from 1705 until its independence from France in 1957, according to INP statement.

Also in the lot is the original copy of a reference book on the Husseinite monarchy written by 19th century Tunisian historian and politician Ahmed ibn Abi Dhiaf.

Among the 114 objects are ceremonial apparel from the start of the 20th century, religious manuscripts, poetry books and official correspondence. They are due to go under the hammer in an online June 11 sale organised by the Paris-based Coutau-Begarie auction house.

“The authorities must do what is needed to stop this sale because these objects have a priceless value and are part of the country’s history,” said Mahfoudh.

Authorities said Tuesday they have launched an investigation to determine how the artefacts were smuggled out of Tunisia.

Mahfoudh noted that the National Heritage Institute had only found out on Sunday that the objects had left Tunisia without authorisation.

Efforts are underway by the INP and ambassador and permanent representative of Tunisia to UNESCO to prevent the auction, and in case this initiative does not succeed, “the Tunisian State will opt for diplomatic channels to purchase the parts in question,” the INP said.

“I will not cede these objects to anyone for all the money in the world,” Mahfoudh stressed.