Zahi Hawass remains antiquities minister—for now
A cabinet reshuffle may well end his term, but it is proving difficult to find his replacement
By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 19 July 2011
CAIRO. Egyptian antiquities boss Zahi Hawass still remains the minister, despite reports that he has been sacked. On 19 July he told The Art Newspaper that prime minister Esssam Sharaf has asked him to continue to go to work. However, Hawass’s future is now very uncertain.
Although Hawass is facing dismissal in an imminent cabinet reshuffle, it is proving complicated to find his replacement as antiquities minister. Last Sunday Abdel Fatah El Banna of Cairo University was named as his successor, but the appointment failed to go ahead after he faced criticism, including protests from antiquities staff.
Hawass is a colourful and controversial figure who dominates Egyptology. After running the Supreme Council of Antiquities since 2002, he was appointed minister by former president Hosni Mubarak on 31 January. When Mubarak was toppled 11 days later, Hawass remained as minister, but he resigned on 5 March, citing two reasons. Hawass felt the army was no longer guarding archaeological sites and he himself faced what he regarded as false claims over “stealing antiquities and doing other illegal things.”
Alaa El Din Shaheen was named as Hawass’s successor, although the appointment was never confirmed. Hawass was reappointed minister on 30 March.
Hawass continues to face a string of problems. He is regarded as having been close to Mubarak and the former president’s wife, Suzanne. Antiquities staff have protested over employment conditions. Hawass’s lucrative consultancy with America’s National Geographic is being been questioned, as well as his links with US companies presenting Tutankhamun exhibitions and selling associated merchandise. He became embroiled in a dispute over a contract for the shop at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. And critics felt that his reaction to last January’s looting at the museum was not vigorous enough.
Hawass has strenuously rebutted these criticisms. Although the number of controversies may now end his tenure as minister, he has proved to be a resilient survivor. If he does go, he told us after his March resignation that he would be “writing books and lecturing all over the world.”
Meanwhile prime minister Sharaf has not yet finalised his new cabinet. This was expected to be completed this week, although there could now be a delay for medical reasons, since he is suffering from high blood pressure. There is concern that archaeology may be downgraded and rather than having a separate department it may fall under the ministry of culture.
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