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Hawass Unhinged: Is Dr. Zahi Becoming Archaeology&#146s Charlie Sheen? UPDATED TWICE

Abu Sir, where, according to Zahi Hawass, the tomb of Petah-Shepses has been damaged
Photo from Blue Shield’s report on Egyptian archaeological sites

CultureGrrl, at the risk of being tedious, has lately become “all Egypt, all the time.” But I can’t seem to avert my eyes from this archaeological disaster.

In yesterday’s post on his website, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former Minister of Antiquities (who now declares he is “still in my office and will be until the government has announced my successor”), published the disjointed transcript of an “interview” conducted by an unidentified questioner (his alter ego?). It provides an outlet for his rambling musings about the escalated, unchecked pillaging at Egypt’s archaeological sites (which would be enough to unhinge anyone).

He also tries once again to justify his inexplicable assertion, after the break-in at the Egyptian Museum, that no objects were missing. Most problematically, he rants against those who have accused him of (in his own words) “stealing antiquities and doing other illegal things all of the time.” He does not name his tormentors, but in at least one instance—the “university
professor who was the Antiquities Director for almost six years before
me”—his intended target is easily identifiable.

Like Charlie Sheen, Hawass seems to dig himself into a deeper pit every time he seeks to extricate himself from a reputational sinkhole. As any prudent legal advisor would tell him, his response to criminal accusations should be confined to a succinct denial of guilt. Any further response, if necessary, should be left to the lawyers.

I have largely refrained from publishing the details of the charges swirling around Hawass (which are ascertainable online), because, from my distant vantage point, it’s impossible to evaluate the mud being slung by both sides in this brawl. I don’t want to be a mouthpiece for unsubstantiated, possibly unprovable charges. If these matters ever get to the point of an officially announced investigation or a court case, I’ll report further.

But it might never get that far: For the first time, Hawass indicated that he might leave Egypt (as I had recently predicted might happen). In yesterday’s above-linked post, he wrote:

At the meeting of the Egyptian cabinet yesterday I had my speech
prepared already and I said: “I cannot stay in Egypt [emphasis added] and see antiquities
being stolen when I cannot do anything to stop it!” This situation is
not for me!

What’s uncertain, if the accusations have any substance, is whether he would be allowed to leave.

In his latest post, Hawass discloses further horrific details about the antiquities pillaging that has become rife in his homeland. Back on Feb. 4, I provided the first news report of the looting, which came from written revelations by a firsthand source, at a time when Hawass steadfastly maintained that the nation’s archaeological sites were secure.

Today, Hawass laments:

Almost every day…there are attacks on archaeological
heritage sites all over Egypt. Some of these areas have not been
excavated yet, but all of them contain the remains of our ancient
culture and heritage.

And in late-breaking news, Nevine El-Aref of the Egyptian newspaper El Ahram reports:

Egyptian archaeologists managed to keep antiquities independent from
the Ministry of Culture [now headed by Mohamed Abdel-Moneim El-Sawy, an advertising executive whose father once held the culture post]. Egypt’s newly appointed Prime Minister Essam
agreed to keep the Ministry of Antiquities an independent body
among the cabinet echelon and separate it from the Ministry of Culture.

El Ahram noted that this decision came after a demonstration by “hundreds of Egyptian archaeologists” who demanded an independent ministry.

One of the participants in that demonstration, Nicole Hansen, posted this today on Facebook:

We archaeologists gathered at the Egyptian Museum at 10 a.m. and
then marched to the Council of Ministers and stayed outside protesting
until the Prime Minister came down at about 1:30 p.m. and promised us the
Ministry of Antiquities would stay an independent ministry.

UPDATE: More late-breaking news—Emad Abou-Ghazi has been named as the new Minister of Culture. In today’s El Ahram article announcing his appointment, Sayed Mahmoud reports:

Abou-Ghazi will also be responsible for protecting archaeological sites recently under threat of looting.

That’s a heavy responsibility. We can only hope he’s up to the task.

UPDATE 2: Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities will reportedly hold a referendum on Mar. 18 to help determine who should become its new head. (That person would also hold the title of Minister of Antiquities.) Sarah Parcak, Egyptology Professor at the University of Alabama, posting on the Facebook page of Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum! has published a list, transliterated from Arabic, that names six of the seven people who she says are in contention for the post. The one not included in her transliterated list (but which IS included on the Arabic list) is rendered in English by Google Translate as “Dr. Good Sound.” In Arabic (can anyone help with this?) it’s د.حسن سليم

UPDATE on the update: Two very helpful CultureGrrl readers have informed me that the mystery name is “Hassan Salim.”

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