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Protestors want the British Museum to end its relationship with BP

Protestors want the British Museum to end its relationship with BP

Campaigners are urging the British Museum to not stage an upcoming exhibition of Egyptian artefacts to be sponsored by BP. ‘Hieroglyphs’ is due to open tomorrow (October 13), but protestors are concerned about BP’s links with Egypt and the country’s restrictions on freedom of expression and human rights abuse. 

Brian Eno, Miriam Margolyes and Ahdaf Soueif are among some famous faces who signed an open letter to the British Museum asking it to cut ties with BP. The campaign is being run by Culture Unstained, a group that campaigns to separate fossil fuel companies from the arts sector. The group protested about the opening of ‘Hieroglyphs’ by reading from a book of essays by jailed British-Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah in the museum. Abd El-Fattah has been on hunger strike in an Egyptian prison for almost 200 days and recently told his family he thinks he will die behind bars. 

In the letter, Culture Unstained writes that ‘BP has partnered closely with successive governments and regimes in Egypt’, and the museum ‘should not celebrate Egypt’s cultural past while ignoring the human rights situation in the present, or the climate impacts Egypt faces in the future’. 

BP began its sponsorship of the museum in 1996 to much criticism, including from the museum’s own staff. The exhibition opens shortly before the COP27 climate summit that’s being held at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this year. 

The British Museum told the Guardian: ‘BP are a longstanding corporate partner, and their current contract with us runs until 2023. Museums today have a mixed funding model and we need corporate and private money to fulfil our public mission, to deliver unique learning experiences. The past couple of years have shown how precarious the financial situation can be. Support from the corporate sector is essential for museums and arts organisations in times of reduced funding. This support means we can successfully plan exhibitions long-term and deliver public benefit for millions of people.’

David Nicholas, a spokesperson for BP said: ‘BP has supported the British Museum for over 25 years – this has included supporting around 20 special exhibitions as well as displays and touring exhibitions, covering a wide variety of subjects. And we have been operating in Egypt for almost 60 years supporting Egypt’s growing demand for energy, and are one of the largest investors into its energy industry.’

‘Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt’, British Museum, Oct 13-Feb 19 2023.

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