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End of an Egyptology Era: Zahi Hawass Resigns

Happier Days: Zahi Hawass at the Valley of the Kings
Photo: Supreme Council of Antiquities

The NY Times this afternoon confirmed that Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s long-time head of antiquities, has stepped down.

As I indicated yesterday, his motivation is probably more than his stated dismay at unchecked looting. His probably more compelling concerns were evidenced by his using the occasion of his phone interview today with the Times’ Kate Taylor to blast “colleagues who have criticized him, including one who has accused him of smuggling antiquities.” (My guess is that Kate thought to ask him about that accusation after reading yesterday’s CultureGrrl report.)

As I learned from an AP report by Christopher Torchia, which I came across after I posted yesterday, Hawass was also under increasing pressure to resign due to protests on Monday by archaeologists who called him “a ‘showman’ and publicity hound with little regard for thousands of
archaeology students who have been unable to find work in their field,” in Torchia’s words.

Hawass started today with some belated online transparency—a new litany of damage done to archaeological sites, including “a magazine of Metropolitan Museum of Art’s expedition in Dahshur, known as De Morgan.” We’ve come a long, sad way from his original blanket assurances about the security of ancient sites.

My guess is that we may soon see yet another disconnect between Hawass’ misleading assertions and reality. He had previously written (scroll down):

I cannot leave the country and live in any other part of the world. I want to die in the sands of Egypt.

With many close connections in the West, he may prefer to avoid possible investigations and try to find other outlets for his talents as a popularizer of ancient Egyptian culture. Whoever is in charge now in Egypt (do we know?) should now admit that outside help is desperately needed and call in those who have offered to help protect the country’s important archaeological sites.

In that regard, Sarah Parcak, a commenter on the Facebook page Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum!, today noted:

I can inform you that Blue Shield, UNESCO, the
Carabinieri, etc have all offered their help, publicly and privately.
The Egyptian govenment (i.e., Dr. Zahi), needed to submit a formal request
for help, which they refused or were unwilling to do. They are all
waiting and standing by to give whatever assistance is needed. Until
that happens, they can only stand by.

Similarly, Margaret Maitland of the Eloquent Peasant blog writes:

There is now a petition on Facebook
[note from CultureGrrl: a better link is here] urging the transitional government to provide improved site security.
Perhaps even the numerous unemployed archaeologists who were recently
involved in protests outside the Ministry of Antiquities could be
recruited in protection efforts. Whether outside help will be called in
from international organizations such as UNESCO or Blue Shield remains
to be seen.

Whatever action is taken by the transitional Egyptian
government clearly cannot come too soon.

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