A robot artist made it to an exhibit at Egypt’s pyramids after its British maker said airport security held his creation for 10 days on suspicion it could be part of an espionage plot.

The release came in time for the android, which goes by the name Ai-Da, to showcase its work alongside that of human artists at a show opening Thursday at the pyramids of Giza. Hours before, the robot was in the custody of Egyptian border guards because of security fears about the cameras in its eyes that enable it to paint, according to its creator, gallerist Aidan Meller, who told U.K. media that the British ambassador stepped in.

“I can’t really gouge her eyes out,” he told the Guardian. “Let’s be really clear about this. She is not a spy.”

Some people took the opportunity to note that the robot fared better than thousands of people, including lawyers and journalists, who have faced detention in Egypt, where rights advocates have long urged authorities to ease the crackdown. Such groups have called on the United States to attach tougher conditions to the millions in aid that go to Egypt.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on reports about the robot, which arrived by air cargo.

In a statement, the British Embassy in Cairo did not clarify whether diplomats had intervened. “Customs clearance procedures can be lengthy, and are required before importation of any artworks or IT equipment,” it said. “The Embassy is glad to see that this particular case has now been resolved.”

The art consultancy putting on the show, with Egypt’s Tourism and Foreign ministries, said the robot was joining the first contemporary art exhibition to take place at the pyramids.

Ai-Da — billed as the world’s first robot artist — has sparked debate about the boundaries of artificial intelligence since programmers and psychologists finished building the humanoid in 2019. With the machine giving media interviews and displaying artwork in London museums, it also has raised questions about the meaning of human creativity.

Siobhán O’Grady in Cairo contributed to this report.


A previous version of this article misstated the first name of gallerist Aidan Meller. The article has been corrected.

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