February 2, 2012

Controversial keeper of Egypt’s antiquities looses his job

Posted at 2:05 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Zahi Hawass is a man who stirs up controversy wherever he goes, whether with his own goading of foreign governments to return disputed artefacts, or through the way that his blatant self publicising approach irritates others. He has done a lot to help Egypt’s archaeology in his time in the job, but at the same time has managed to annoy many people. It appears that this will no longer be the case however, as he has lost his job as the head of Egypt’s Supreme Archaeological Council.

(Yes – I know that this post is out of date – as are most others on the blog at the moment), but I wanted to keep it here so that the blog represents a relatively complete archive of events).

Daily Telegraph

‘Real Indiana Jones’ sacked as keeper of Egypt’s heritage
He called himself the real Indiana Jones and keeper of Egypt’s heritage, and was an almost permanent presence on any television programme about the country’s colourful past.

But Zahi Hawass, the public face of the pyramids, has become the latest casualty of the revolution sweeping the Egyptian government after being sacked as minister of antiquities.

Dr Hawass was head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities for 10 years, and before that in charge of the Pyramids and Sphinx on the Giza plateau outside Cairo. He staged regular press conferences unveiling new discoveries from the time of the pharaohs.

In honour of his claim that the film producer George Lucas consulted him before creating the character of Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, he was rarely seen without a large fedora hat.

But after being made minister of antiquities in one of Hosni Mubarak’s last acts as president, he has been sacked to appease growing hostility from anti-government protesters, not least archaeologists fed up with his style of management.

Social networking sites like Twitter were flooded with inevitable jokes, from “the Curse of the Mummy strikes” to comments such as “Zahi Hawass to no longer appear in every single TV special on Egypt”. Some were simpler, saying, “Please take your hat with you.”

Dr Hawass was popular among journalists, visitors and for a time Egyptians themselves for his flamboyant style and unchallenged commitment to promote Egypt’s treasures and to use them to attract tourists.

He also led populist campaigns to return Egypt’s heritage from museums abroad, most notably the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum.

However, local archaeologists accused him of stealing credit for their achievements, and “recycling” discoveries for publicity.

More seriously, as the Egyptian revolution unfolded, his finances, friendship with Mr Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, and management of resources came into question.

He was revealed to receive a regular income from the National Geographic channel, and was put on trial over the contract under which a company which marketed a “souvenir Hawass clothing line”, including copies of the trademark hat, was awarded the rights to run the souvenir shop in the National Museum in Cairo.

He claimed that proceeds from the hats went to children’s charities, of which Mrs Mubarak was patron.

At one stage, while protesters were flooding Tahrir Square and the road outside the Television Centre, archaeologists were staging their own strike outside the offices of the Antiquities Council.

Matters were made worse when the extent of damage and looting to the poorly guarded museum and other historic sites during the demonstrations became clear.

The prime minister, Essam Sharaf, this weekend bowed to renewed protests by young activists who claim that the interim Supreme Military Council, which is overseeing the country until new elections, is keeping too much power to itself. Mr Sharaf removed half his cabinet, including Dr Hawass, on Sunday afternoon.

It is unlikely that the Egyptian government will drop its campaign for the return of the Rosetta Stone. But the scandals surrounding his removal will remove some of the pressure on the British Museum, as the financial crisis in Greece has over its other controversial exhibit, the Elgin Marbles.

Dr Hawass’s sacking will be mourned by colleagues around the world, many of whom worked with him closely for decades.

John Baines, professor of Egyptology at Oxford University, said: “Over the years he did a lot of good for Egyptian archaeology and in many cases for the Egyptian monuments, but recently he had become very domineering, and an eclipse became increasingly likely.”

All Headline News

Hawass is gone, leaving Egyptian antiquities in crisis

Critics say he leaves behind a field suffering from mismanagement, corruption and, despite the massive self-promotion he engaged in as boss of Egyptian antiquities, a lack of leadership

Source: (TML)
Reporter: TML Staff
Location: Cairo, Egypt
Published: July 19, 2011 11:12 am EDT
Topics: Science And Technology, Politics

The exit of Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s antiquities supremo, was as dramatic as most of his decade-long tenure. But he also leaves an empty stage at a time when the country’s archeologists and museums that store its world-renowned treasures are badly in need of leadership.

Hawass, who was minister of antiquities, was one of more than a dozen cabinet officials to lose their jobs as part of a reshuffle by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in the face of protests over the slow pace of political reforms. But Hawass left with a bang. He was besieged by employees on Sunday as he departed his office for the last time. His successor, Abdel-Fattah Al-Banna, who had campaigned vociferously to force Hawass out of office, took over the ministry only to be dismissed a day later as employees in museums across Egypt went on strike against Al-Banna’s appointment

For 10 years, Hawass was the second most famous face of Egyptian archeology, right after King Tut. But critics say he leaves behind a field suffering from mismanagement, corruption and, despite the massive self-promotion he engaged in as boss of Egyptian antiquities, a lack of leadership. Indeed, many saw him not as an ally of Husni Mubarak, Egypt’s disgraced former president, but as someone who mimicked the personality cult and highhanded ways of his former boss.

“He was the Mubarak of antiquities – he was a dictator. He didn’t tolerate criticism. He did whatever he wanted,” Nora Shalaby, a Cairo-based archeologist, told The Media Line. “His policy while in power was not to let anyone else have the spotlight. It was just about him, him, him …. He was the only one anyone knew.”

Egypt is home to one of the world’s greatest treasure troves of ancient art and relics, but like much else in modern Egypt its assets have been poorly handled amid charges of corruption and negligence. The country is now going through a difficult period as the opposition forces that brought down Mubarak demand that Hawass and others be called into account while the transitional government seeks stability.

Hawass, 64, began his career as an inspector of antiquities 42 years ago. He became director of antiquities at the Giza Plateau in the late 1980s and was named Egypt’s top chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in 2002. One of Mubarak’s last official acts was to elevate Hawass to cabinet minister.

As Egypt was shaken by unrest earlier this year, Hawass came under fire for his failure to protect the Egyptian Museum and other sites from theft and vandalism and for downplaying the damage. He submitted his resignation but was quickly reinstated. “I cannot live without antiquities, and antiquities cannot live without me,” he said at the time.

Remarks like that, as well as establishing a trademark style that included donning an Indian Jones-style fedora and frequent appearances on the Discovery Channel, angered critics, who said he was more intent on building a personality cult than addressing problems and running his antiquities empire.

Hawass’ website includes tabs named “great discoveries” and “fanclub.” The revival of Egypt’s struggling tourism industry, the discovery of stolen antiquities in the U.S. and the pyramid of a Sixth Dynasty queen are all reported as if they were his personal accomplishments.

A week ago, the New York Times published a profile of Hawass highlighting his ties with private business, including a $200,000 annual honorarium from National Geographic and a company mounting exhibitions of Egyptian artifacts and marketing a line of signature clothing.

Archeologists accused him of stealing credit for their work and exercising arbitrary control over access to sites and relics.

Hawass never hesitated to defend his record. In an interview last May with the magazine Scientific American he insisted he wasn’t close to Mubarak’s wife Suzanne and discounted charges of malfeasance in awarding a gift shop concession at the Egyptian Museum. Against critics of his management style, Hawass said a strong hand was needed in his job.

“If you need to control the antiquities of Egypt, you have to be very strong on the job,” he said. “Our antiquities were robbed by everyone before [I came to office]. The antiquities directors were not that strong before. When I do this, I do it for the sake of the antiquities.”

Hawass spearheaded a movement to return prominent or unique artifacts, such as the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum and the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin’s Neues Museum. Last January, he suggested New York City should return Cleopatra’s Needle, unless the officials took measures to preserve it.

Shalaby said the demand, like others, is ironic, given how poorly Egypt preserves its own patrimony.

“He couldn’t take care of antiquities in his own country, let alone take care of things returned from abroad,” Shalaby said, asserting that the campaign to bring artifacts home was probably driven by self-promotion. “I don’t doubt he wanted to get them back, but the reasons for doing were not so clear.”

Egypt’s Supreme Antiquities Authority employs 58,000 people, about two thirds of whom are security guards. But the number of sites is in the thousands and the guards are poorly paid, thus theft and vandalism are rife. Days before Hawass’ exit, U.S. officials said they had broken up an international ring smuggling Egyptian antiquities into the United States.

Despite their importance to scholarship and tourism, under Hawass’ watch Egypt’s museums are poorly maintained, said Shalaby. Exhibits are badly labeled, if at all and aren’t displayed along any coherent theme. They suffer a shortage of qualified personnel at the management level, forcing them to rely on foreign experts.

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1 Comment »

  1. Pamela said,

    07.04.15 at 2:00 am

    Thank U <3

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