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Asserting Egypt’s sovereignty over its cultural heritage

Zahi Hawass is continuing to campaign [1] for the return of Egypt’s cultural treasures, with a clear cut strategy of why he is doing it & of which specific artefacts he is focusing his efforts on.

Agence France Presse [2]

Zahi Hawass, media-savvy guardian of Egypt’s past
By Christophe de Roquefeuil (AFP) – 15th February 20009

CAIRO — Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, at 62, still bubbles with excitement whenever he announces the latest discovery of a tomb or relic, his eyes lighting up under the brim of his trademark Indiana Jones-style hat.

Aside from his love of the media limelight, Hawass is locked in battle to assert Egypt’s sovereignty over its heritage, even if that means crossing swords with the world’s most prestigious museums.

His style and patriotism will be on show again on Wednesday when he holds a press conference to announce the DNA results on the mummy of boy-king Tutankhamun, the pharaoh whose origins have mystified scholars.

Hawass insisted the tests be carried out by Egyptian scientists.

After centuries of non-Egyptian dominance, with some of the country’s unique relics on display in foreign museums, he has campaigned for Cairo to play a more assertive role in finding and safeguarding its heritage.

Born in the Nile Delta town of Damiatta, Hawass studied archaeology at the universities of Cairo and Alexandria, and went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

Since becoming head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) in 2002, he has pressed for the return of relics held in foreign museums, while tightening up on the supervision of foreign excavation teams.

“I am not against foreigners, I simply wanted to establish more equality,” he told AFP earlier this month. The regulations being imposed on foreign teams, while stringent, were clear and overcame bureaucratic hurdles.

Hawass has fought for the return of some of ancient Egypt’s treasures, boasting that 6,000 relics have come home since he became head of the SCA.

He won a famous victory last year against France’s Louvre, forcing it to return fragments of an ancient tomb after he threatened to suspend cooperation with the museum.

Hawass has also sought, without success so far, to bring back the Rosetta Stone, housed in the British Museum, and the famous bust of Nefertiti in Germany’s Neues Museum.

In Egypt, he has campaigned strongly for the protection of archaeological sites and relics.

The SCA chief was infuriated by a reported proposal to allow the sale of some relics inside Egypt, as parliament debated a new antiquities law, threatening to resign.

The law that finally passed still forbids the sale of relics, while imposing more stringent penalties for the theft and smuggling of relics. “It’s a question of our heritage. It’s the best that Egypt has,” he said.