The family of former Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who has been accused of robbing the country of its cultural heritage through the looting of archaeological sites such as the ancient city of Carthage, faces prosecution yet again.
Ben Ali’s son-in-law, Sakher el-Materi, has been on trial in Tunisia since December for "trafficking in archaeological finds, illegal transfer of protected property, and possession of unregistered archaeological finds and excavation of mobile and fixed ruins without a license." El-Materi has found sanctuary in Qatar, though he is being tried in absentia.
Among the 164 looted artifacts found in the former home of el-Materia and his wife, Nesrine Ben Ali, is a 700-plus-pound sculpture depicting the head of a Gorgon, a Greek mythological figure.
The marble statue, which was unearthed in 1930 during excavations conducted in the ancient city of Hippo Regius (modern Annaba, Algeria), was stolen from Algeria in 1996.
The Tunisian minister of culture confirmed that the “Gorgon’s Mask” will be returned to Algeria following the completion of legal proceedings against el-Materi.
As the inhabitants of Arab Spring countries continue their struggle for freedom from political and social tyranny, the region’s cultural heritage continues to suffer irreparable harm. The imminent return of the “Gorgon’s Mask” offers a glimmer of hope in the fight for cultural security in the embattled nations of North Africa and the Middle East.