Will Egypt’s top archeologist be buried with Pharaoh?

Dan Murphy reports on what the fall of Hosni Mubarak will mean for his favorite Egyptologist, the internationally ubiquitous Zahi Hawass: Mr. Hawass, who has run Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities since 2002, is the gatekeeper to Egyptology, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence (a lucrative perch) since 2001, whose rise in Egypt was at ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Dan Murphy reports on what the fall of Hosni Mubarak will mean for his favorite Egyptologist, the internationally ubiquitous Zahi Hawass:

Mr. Hawass, who has run Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities since 2002, is the gatekeeper to Egyptology, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence (a lucrative perch) since 2001, whose rise in Egypt was at least partially sponsored by Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the ousted leader. With his Indiana Jones-inspired hat and patter about the "mysteries of ancient Egypt," he's become something of a global star in the past decade.

And today, he was besieged by a few hundred employees of the council and unemployed archeology graduates, demanding better pay and jobs. Hawass, a larger-than-life figure resented by other Egyptologists for the tight grip he exercises over access to Egypt's monuments (I've met a few foreign archeologists over the years who claimed he refused to issue permits because their theories did not square with his own) is a reminder of how much of the ancien regime remains after Mubarak's ouster.

Dan Murphy reports on what the fall of Hosni Mubarak will mean for his favorite Egyptologist, the internationally ubiquitous Zahi Hawass:

Mr. Hawass, who has run Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities since 2002, is the gatekeeper to Egyptology, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence (a lucrative perch) since 2001, whose rise in Egypt was at least partially sponsored by Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the ousted leader. With his Indiana Jones-inspired hat and patter about the "mysteries of ancient Egypt," he’s become something of a global star in the past decade.

And today, he was besieged by a few hundred employees of the council and unemployed archeology graduates, demanding better pay and jobs. Hawass, a larger-than-life figure resented by other Egyptologists for the tight grip he exercises over access to Egypt’s monuments (I’ve met a few foreign archeologists over the years who claimed he refused to issue permits because their theories did not square with his own) is a reminder of how much of the ancien regime remains after Mubarak’s ouster.

To the men who rent camels to tourists and run unlicensed guide services for foreigners at the Giza plateau, he’s a hated figure and the reasons are simple. About 8 years ago, Hawass had fences put up around the pyramids (and the older set of pyramids south along the Nile at Saqqara), which restricted their access to the sites, made it easier for the tourist police to extract bribes in exchange for allowing them to ply their trades, and lowered family incomes.

"That man would be happy to see a family starve if he could save a mummy," says Ali Ibrahim, the third generation is his family to hawk camel rides at the pyramids to tourists. "We’ve lived here for generations, and he took money out of our pockets."

Around 18 ancient artifacts were stolen by looters from the Egyptian museums during the protests in nearby Tahrir Square, though Hawass initially denied that anything had been taken. Critics suspect he may have withheld the news for fear of what the destruction of Egypt’s historical legacy could do to the regime’s legitimacy.

Hawass unwisely accepted a position in Mubarak’s reorganized cabinet last week. One would think that someone who makes his living studying the intrigues behind all-powerful rulers would know better. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: Egypt

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