French tourist unjustifiably arrested in Egypt for 8 days over souvenir statue misunderstanding

French tourist unjustifiably arrested in Egypt for 8 days over souvenir statue misunderstanding

A French tourist has been detained for eight days by Egyptian authorities who mistook a souvenir she bought from a hotel for an ancient artefact.

Dream-turned-nightmare

After a 10-day holiday visiting a range of Egyptian sights and cruising the Nile, the 56-year-old lawyer was arrested at Luxor Airport. Authorities had X-rayed her luggage and discovered a small statue of a crouching, loincloth-wearing figure. “I had no idea that he would not bring me luck,” she said.

Known to media as Nathalie, the lawyer told Le Figaro she had been “very attracted by this object” the previous day while visiting an art gallery at the Winter Palace Hotel. She purchased the item for €250 (around $270).

Her reward for putting money into the Egyptian economy? A night spent in a 10m2 room along with 40 other detainees, followed by eight further days of solo detention at the police station, before being charged with possession of antiquities and trafficking.

In all our 30 years in Egypt, we have never had to deal with a case like this.

Jean-François Rial, CEO of Voyageurs du Monde

Presumed guilty

Her ordeal included being told by the legal representative assigned to her that she was presumed guilty and should therefore apologise to the police. It was only thanks to the intervention of her tour operator, Voyageurs du Monde that Nathalie was transferred to a private cell.

“In all our 30 years in Egypt, we have never had to deal with a case like this,” Jean-François Rial, CEO of Voyageurs du Monde commented. Noting that State Security is an entity unto itself that even Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has little control over, and that they take antiquity trafficking very seriously, Rial added: “We have a good network and so were able to improve Nathalie’s detention but it is difficult to speed up proceedings once State Security services have become involved.”

Do not buy

Three experts were called, and two of them said they believed the statuette to be an antique piece that could be up to 4,500 years old. A judge eventually halted her case, once the gallery where she had made the purchase provided details of the statue’s manufacturer and it became clear it had been mass produced for the tourist market.

Nathalie was then flown out of the country after a phone call from France’s new Ambassador to Egypt, Éric Chevallier. Still, she intends to fight on, since she currently remains banned from Egypt for life and her name has not been officially cleared.

Egypt’s travel and tourism industry is one of the country’s foremost sectors, employing 2.4 million people and making up around 10% of its GDP in 2022. But the situation is fragile, with Houthi rebel attacks in the region and the Gaza crisis causing a drop in tourist numbers. On top of all that, French media are now warning tourists about visiting Egypt and telling them not to make any purchases. 

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