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Egyptian Turmoil: Will Hawass Survive a Regime Change?

Mummy at the Egyptian Museum
Image from Zahi Hawass’ website

Samantha Henig of the New Yorker, in the magazine’s Back Issues blog today, raises the question of whether Zahi Hawass will remain as Egypt’s antiquities chief, “even if the Mubarak government falls.” (That’s more likely to be a “when,” not an “if.”)

Ian Parker
, who wrote a detailed, deprecating 2009 profile for the New Yorker—The Pharaoh: Is Zahi Hawass Bad for Egyptology?—yesterday told Henig:

He [Hawass] is not the kind of man to have nurtured candidates for his own
eventual replacement. So even the act of
taking a job promotion [my link, not theirs] from a dying regime, in the middle of the crisis,
may not have hurt his chances to continue running Egypt’s antiquities.

Henig linked to CultureGrrl for my aggregation of reports that (in her words) “suggest that more harm has been done [to antiquities] than Hawass has let on.” I had quoted mainstream media sources (CNN, Associated Press, Al Jazeera) as well as Egyptologist Margaret Maitland‘s ears-to-the-ground The Eloquent Peasant blog. I was careful to note, though, that online reports from Egyptologists had not been officially confirmed.

Speaking of which, Hawass, on his website today, strongly reiterated his assertion that the Egyptian Museum and the country’s archaeological sites are safe:

the fights and fires in Tahrir Square that many people saw on television
yesterday did not affect the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, at all….If
there was a fire near the museum, I have the fire department located
outside of the museum, and they could quickly control and put out any
fire….I am a man of honor, and I would never hide anything from you….

Saqqara is safe and all the monuments are fine; nothing is damaged or stolen. The
site of Lisht has excavations run by Dieter Arnold [curator] of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York. The guards of the Lisht monuments called
Dieter two days ago to reassure him that they were doing a good job of
guarding the site. I want Dieter to know that Lisht is safe and will
remain safe.

Arnold told me today, “I trust Dr. Zahi Hawass.”

As for Saqqara, these comments from Salima Ikram, Egyptology professor at American University in Cairo, were posted on the Facebook page for the group, Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum!:

Just spoke to inspectors at Saqqara.The army has been present at the site for four days. For the most part the
tombs had their door locks broken, but they do not appear to have been
damaged. Some of the storerooms, however, have been breached. Tombs
that are further away from the main drag have probably been damaged,
particularly those on the south side of the Unas Causeway.

have been trying to assess the damage, but it is difficult as the site
is still not safe. Inspectors are going into one magazine at a time,
with the army, in order to evaluate the extent of looting. The general
public cannot go to the site as the army forbids it.

For additional photos from the Egyptian Museum amidst the turmoil, recently posted on Hawass’ website, go here and then keep clicking the “next” arrow at the top of the image.

an ArtsJournal blog