For many Egyptians – and I am part of them – the archeologist Zahi Hawass was our “Egyptian Indiana Jones“. When we were watching him on our TV screens chasing mummies, wearing his pionner’s hat, we were exploring with him, we were sharing the journey to the past and back. But beyond the emotional link between Dr Zahi Hawass and the Egyptian people, there is a life long struggle: advocacing the cause of the sovereignty of Egypt on their own Antiquities and conservation of the Egyptian acheological patrimony. This entire dedication to his cause even led him to be appointed as Minister of Antiquities in the last days of the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak, before to resign, and be re-appointed again.
The recent scandal about the launching of a menswear line carrying his name using for its visuals archeological objects of great value that most of Egyptians not only cannot photography but would not even have the chance to see once in their lifetime shook all of us. As an Egyptian, extremely proud of my ancestors and the wonders they let behind them, to see a model sitten in King Tut’s throne was a bit like watching Egypt “raped”, a symbolical rape, where identity is an edible good like any other, good to sell and good to make some money. The word “rape” might seem to strong to many of the readers, but I am sure majority of Egyptians understand perfectly what I mean. Sunday Moreover, Dr Hawass was sentenced to one year in jail on sunday after refusing to implement a court decision over a bookshop dispute (see here for more details). Anyway, the sentence is currently suspended until appeal.
Dr Hawass has always been controversed for his unusual way of doing things, but here, it is coming to more serious matters: being part of the regime we toppled, taking profit for personal interests and a court sentence. We carried on this revolution because we wanted our New Egypt to be a land of justice and fairness. This led me naturally to ask myself: would it be better for the fate of Egyptian Antiquities if Dr Hawass resigns?
At this point, one should try to think less emotional and more rational. Evaluate precisely what Dr Hawass did, for what reasons he did so, and if those acts are forgivable or not.
- Dr Hawass was part of Mubarak cabinet : yes he was. But, we have to admit it, he was maybe the only member of that government making his duty, serving Egypt. I don’t think he cares about a status and he never was one of Mubarak followers, he was part of that cabinet because it was at some point the only way to act efficiently for our patrimony. He was never a politician, he entered into politics upon a conviction and, we have to admit it, he made wonders in his position, that none but him could have done. When the revolution started, he gave himself the duty to protect our National Museum, when others were thinking about how to save their own interests. I also believe it is one of the very few members of the former government that is not involved in any way into corruption or criminal activities. He was also the only member of that cabinet taking a strong position towards Israel. Politically saying, one can thus say that Dr Hawass was one of the cleanest persons politically involved before January 2011, the only one whose assessment was positive, and one of the many that have the faith for fulfilling all the great expectations of our New Egypt.
- Dr Hawass makes money with our National Patrimony: Well, this is at the same time true and untrue. He is launching a clothing line in cooperation with Art Zulu, true. The American photographer James Weber has taken pictures of models wearing “Zahi Hawass” clothes using the Kind Tut’s exhibition as a decor, true. What is untrue though is what we suppose going on behind this: we might think he is taking advantage of his position as Chief of Antiquities to rule his personnal business. Indeed, how to explain that a man that fought all his life to preserve our patrimony would now use it, careless of how a photo shooting can damage some objects? If we are honest, if he wanted to use for making money upon Egyptian Antiquities, instead of being a more-than-30-years activist to bring back precious objects to Egypt from Europe, he would just have spent these years of impunity for the mighty in selling mummies, art items, etc, to European amateurs and museums; least he could do, he would have accepted on of the many propositions of the prestigious Universities around the world that were offering him pharaonic wages and all-facilities-included labs. Common’ he is not going to become a multimillionaire with this menswear line! In my point of view, I see an archeologist that endorsed almost alone a cause that is much bigger than one man, in a country were scientists are not fairly rewarded for their hard labour and not helped in their initiatives (Dr Farouk Al Baz would certainly concur). In a way, he makes me think of these highschool teachers that have to give private lessons (“doross khossossiya“), because the system is unconsequent in giving them the right retribution to what they do. Of course in Dr Hawass case it is a bit different, he is not struggling for living, but yet if you take a University Professor wage (one of those who do not compromise into corruption) and compare it to the standards in Germany or UK where he spends a lot of his time, you might reach the conclusion that such an international personnality must be rewarded upon international prestige standards. I think we must first clear this point before to condemn Dr Hawass for the shooting in King Tut’s exhibition and be fair in our evaluation, and always keep in mind his dedication while trying to know more about the case.
- Dr Hawass is sentenced to prison: about this perticular matter, first he objects the sentence, second some of the clarifications he gives here could be enlightning. As a citizen, we should give him the right to claim his point of view before to drop a final conclusion over the case.
Honestly, when I first saw the pictures of the shooting I first thought Dr Hawass should resign; this was certainly a reaction of anger. Now, thinking of it, and trying to look at the long perspective of Egyptian Antiquities in Egypt, I believe he not only did a lot of valuable and positive things for Egyptian Antiquities and through that for Egyptian identity, but also still have much more to do and that is why I believe Dr Hawass should not resign. Anyway, as long as the Rosetta Stone, the Nefertiti Bust and other antiquities are not back in Egypt, I don’t think he’d ever rest and, as Egyptians, I don’t think we can think at anyone else who can advocate the cause of our Patrimony like he can do. Besides his passion for Egyptology, he is one of the very few that could lead a negociation and force out of European countries the return of some of our heritage, even when he had nothing and nobody at his side (the only other I know who had this strong negociation skills was the late Yasser Arafat, that could force out of the entire world the recognition of a Palestinian legitimacy).
And that is why I give my trust and support to Dr Hawass; I am sure a big percentage of the Egyptians do as well.