an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

CNN Report Casts Doubt on Hawass Resignation

Zahi Hawass

Maybe my headline yesterday should have read:

Zahi Hawass Resigns (or maybe not)

CNN today reports [via]:

Egypt’s antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, said Friday he plans to step
down to protest police inaction as the country’s ancient treasures are
being looted and vandalized….

Hawass said he has not resigned yet but will if asked by new Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. Sharaf…is in the
process of forming a new Cabinet. Hawass said he does not intend to be a
part of it.

“I have no interest in doing that at all,” he said.

These mixed messages, especially in light of the controversy swirling around Hawass, sound a bit like, “You can’t fire me. I quit!”

Instead of protesting police inaction, Hawass should have proactively sought help from international organizations that might have provided more effective assistance.

In this regard, Thomas Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum, issued a statement yesterday that concluded:

The world cannot sit by [emphasis added] and permit unchecked anarchy to jeopardize the cultural heritage of one of the world’s oldest, greatest, and most inspiring civilizations. We echo the voices of all concerned citizens of the globe in imploring Egypt’s new government authorities, in building the nation’s future, to protect its precious past. Action needs to be taken immediately.

He doesn’t specify what form that action should take. I have a query in to the Met. Perhaps we shall soon learn more.

Close upon yesterday’s release by Hawass of a far more extensive list of archaeological site depredations than had previously been acknowledged, Judith Dobrzynski on her Real Clear Arts posted another list, which had been leaked to her, of additional objects said to be missing from the Egyptian Museum. Judith noted that she was unable to confirm the accuracy of list, but stated that it came “through a chain of reliable sources.” Margaret Maitland in her Eloquent Peasant blog (herself also a usually reliable source) wrote that she had “heard from other channels that the source [of the list] is trustworthy.”

But a commenter on Maitland’s post, self-identified only as “A.H.,” criticized the list as “unsourced” and “unsubstantiated” and added:

I’ve seen that email with the list, Margaret, and it is so “reliable” [my quotation marks, not the writer’s] it accuses America
and the National Geographic of having a hand in the looting. It is such a
“reliable source” [again my quotes] that the person doesn’t give his or her name. It was
clearly written by someone with a grudge.

That comment, also anonymous, may well have been written by a Hawass adherent.

Whatever the reliability of that list, the ham-fisted handling of the depredations inside the Egyptian Museum joins a long list of Zahi Hawass self-contradictions: In his Feb. 12 report on objects missing from the museum, he described it as the database department’s “report on the inventory of objects.” He said nothing about that report’s being merely preliminary. On Feb. 23 he reported for the first time that “the museum’s collections management and documentation team continues to work with the curators to complete their inventory, so that we can finalize the list of missing objects and concentrate on getting everything back as soon as possible.”

And now we are getting indications that more missing objects may indeed have been identified, but are not being officially announced. If that’s the case, there is no excuse for withholding that important information. The public and the Egyptology community need to know.

As I’ve repeatedly asserted, we need to stop the rumors and discourage possible illicit trade with the authoritative publication of a complete list of missing objects with high-quality photos. This needs to happen not some time in the future but yesterday.

And whatever the veracity or lack thereof of the various charges leveled against Hawass during this difficult period of governmental transition, Egypt needs someone of greater candor, credibility and accountability to take charge of its tragic antiquities mess.

an ArtsJournal blog