04 March 2011

Hawass "will not stay on" as Antiquities Head

A pleading look from Zahi (NY Times)
With the resignation of the Shafiq government in Egypt and the appointment of professor and former Transport Minister Essam Sharaf as Prime Minister,  Zahi Hawass has said he will leave his position as head of Egypt's antiquities authority, according to the New York Times:

In the interview, Mr. Hawass lashed out at his critics but said he was leaving his job because he could no longer protect Egypt’s antiquities. “Those people are insects, they are nothing, but what really bothered me is the situation that you read today on my Web site,” he said.

Egyptologists and cultural heritage experts said they did not know who would succeed Mr. Hawass, and one expert expressed concern that his departure would lead to more looting.

“I am terrified by the idea that this might be a sign to potential looters that now that last element of control is gone, and now we have a free hand to continue looting,” said Karl von Habsburg, the president of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield, a body that tries to protect cultural heritage in conflict zones. 
I'm really not sure what Hawass' game is here. He doesn't seem like the type to meekly retire, and there is a big rhetorical difference between 'resign' and 'not stay on'. Al Jazeera reports that Hawass was facing opposition from within his own ministry:
Meanwhile on Friday, Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass was quoted in Egyptian newspapers as saying he would not participate in the new government to be led by Sharaf.
Hawass has been a cabinet minister since January 31 when Mubarak named a new government led by Shafiq.
Hawass said he was no longer able to carry out his duties amid what he called a campaign against him by officials at his ministry.
Sounds like the student protests might have been the tip of the iceberg of opposition to Hawass among the archaeological establishment.

Despite the drama of this headline, I would be very, very surprised if this is the end of Zahi Hawass. Among the Egyptology-oriented Facebook posse there is surprise + skepticism. Is this some kind of shock tactic he's using to make a point? I suspect we'll find out soon. Stay tuned.

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