What's mine is thine, unless of course you don't give it back.
For more than two hundred years the Rosetta Stone--a seven-square-foot block of granodiorite whose carvings are comprised of the only translations from hieroglyphs to ancient Greek the world has ever known, without which the writing of ancient Egypt might still be a mystery--has sat in London, far from its home in a place called Al-Rashid, Egypt, where it was discovered in 1799 by soldiers of Napoleon's army.
Upon Napoleon's defeat the stone passed to the victorious British, who took the stone as well as thousands of other artifacts of antiquity from the sand and soil of Egypt during the colonial period. Now Egypt wants its treasure back.
Egypt's Pharaoh of Antiquities (and here we're using the world 'pharaoh' in the way that Americans use the word 'czar'), an influential and dedicated gentleman called Zahi Hawass, has said he is prepared to launch a fight in both judicial and public-opinion courts to retrieve the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum.
(Readers of Harper's Magazine may recall Zahi Hawass's cameo in the January '08 issue in a fantastic article called "The Mummy's Curse" about a group of old Egyptologists fighting in the desert. And this week he is profiled in a New Yorker article dubbing him, naturally, "The Pharaoh.")
Mr. Hawass, on behalf of Egyptians, wants the famous stone to reside (at least temporarily) in the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, a multigazillion-dollar project being constructed at the base of the Great Pyramids slated for completion in 2013. His trump card, for now, is a pledge to drop (at least temporarily) Egyptian demands for a permanent resettlement of the stone if it is returned on loan for three months or so.
The British authorities seem concerned that, should they lend the stone to they who claim right to it, there is little doubt of its permanent abduction.
Oh, the irony would be worthy of celebration were it not steeped in haughtiness, if not outright prejudice.