18 July 2011

Egypt: is Hawass finally out?

In Egypt, the Zahi Hawass saga keeps twisting and turning. After resigning, being subject to protests, and then returning to office, the overseer of the pyramids was fired yesterday as part of a cabinet reshuffle. The AP reports:
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's antiquities minister, whose trademark Indiana Jones hat made him one the country's best known figures around the world, was fired Sunday after months of pressure from critics who attacked his credibility and accused him of having been too close to the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Zahi Hawass, long chided as publicity loving and short on scientific knowledge, lost his job along with about a dozen other ministers in a Cabinet reshuffle meant to ease pressure from protesters seeking to purge remnants of Mubarak's regime.

"He was the Mubarak of antiquities," said Nora Shalaby, an activist and archaeologist. "He acted as if he owned Egypt's antiquities, and not that they belonged to the people of Egypt." 
Hopefully this means the end of this sort of thing (via Vintagedept on Flickr)
Hawass was immediately replaced by Abdel Fattah Al-Banna as Antiquities Minister. Al-Banna had the merit of being a) not Zahi Hawass and b) frequently present during protests in Tahrir Square. He has met resistance, however, from within Egypt's antiquities establishment, as Al-Masry Al-Youm reports:
The Supreme Council of Antiquities secretariat rejected the appointment of Abdel Fattah al-Banna as antiquities minister. The appointment was part of the cabinet reshuffle ordered by Egypt's prime minister.
In a statement, the secretariat said Banna, a restoration specialist, does not specialize in archaeology and should not assume the ministry's responsibilities.
The statement called for dissolving the Antiquities Ministry and returning its responsibilities to the council, which it said would act as an independent, scientific institute run by specialists.
The new minister looks a bit nervous (Al-Masry Al-Youm)
The last line is the real point: the SCA doesn't appreciate losing its power to a political appointee, whoever he may be. They want the ministry dissolved and overall authority returned to 'specialists'.
I don't know enough about the internal politics of the SCA to have an opinion about whether this is a good idea, or not. I wish the new guy well, though my gut tells me he won't last long either. Hawass? Between cozying up to Mubarak and his own authoritarian personality, he set the stage for an undignified exit.  More AP:
Just before news of his departure, Hawass was heckled near his office Sunday as he left on foot. Protesters tried to block his way, until he jumped into a taxi to get away from the melee, the taxi driver, Mohammed Abdu, said.
I doubt this is the last we'll hear of him, but perhaps his star has finally started to fall.

These day's I'm getting my Egyptology news from the Egyptologists for Egypt group on Facebook, which has an excellent news feed. Check it out!

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