The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEN) is calling upon the British Museum to give back its Rosetta stone -- and not for the first time, says the Telegraph. The Australian newspaper had also noted the same entreaty from Cairo to London in 2003.

Still waiting

The hieroglyphic-inscribed relic from the time of Pharaoh Ptolemy's reign, circa 196 B.C. to 96 B.C., was first seized from the village of Rosetta (Rashid) by Napoleon's army in 1799 and then surrendered to the English as part of their spoils of war with the French. And since 1801 the Rosetta Stone it has been the main attraction in the British Museum's Egyptology collection.

GEM director Dr. Tarek Tawfik told the Evening Standing that he is engaged in “vivid discussions” with the Brits about getting their treasure returned. But the Telegraph cites a spokeswoman for the British Museum saying no such discussion has taken place. To hear Dr, Tawfik tell it, his talk was with British Museum director Hartwig Fischer when visiting GEM in April.

All talk, no action

Fifteen years ago, the Telegraph reported the same discussion between Cairo and London about the Rosetta Stone. Zahi Hawass, director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo told the newspaper of his warning; “If the British want to ... restore their reputation, they should volunteer to return the Rosetta Stone because it is the icon of our Egyptian identity ...

I don't want to fight anyone now, but if the British Museum doesn't act, we will have to employ a more aggressive approach with the Government."

Familiar story

If this story sounds familiar, you're likely thinking of the Elgin Marbles, the 233 sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens that also reside in the British Museum collection despite Greece's repeated requests for their return.

Not that the Brits are the only bad guys in this story. If every art repository in Europe and the U.S. every country were to give back their treasures to their rightful owners, their walls would be stripped clean. The Louvre, for instance, would have to let go of all the Old Masters that Napoleon's armies stole from Italy.

Lost in translation

Alas, if only these robberies from ancient Greeks and the Old Nile people had occurred after 1954. That was the year that an international agreement was reached that required all art expatriated in times of war to be returned. This is why, say, Iraq returned what it took from Kuwait's museum in 1990 and why the Seattle Art Museum returned a painting by Henri Matisse to the heirs of an art dealer whose collection the Nazis stole in France during World War II. If museums fulfill their purpose as walk-in encyclopedias of history, the British Museum's disregard for the past of two nations is abusing the privilege.