On February 2nd, a post published on now-Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass’s blog categorically stated: “I would like the people of the world to know that today all of the Egyptian monuments are safe.” The post assures us that no major Egyptian archaeological sites have been seriously damaged besides the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, at the epicenter of the protests that recently overthrew Mubarak’s government (of which Zahi Hawass was a prominent part). Oh, but there was also the “looting of the storage magazine in Qantara,” during which an unknown amount of antiquities were stolen, though 288 were reportedly returned. Hawass’s blog gives a uniquely skewed perspective on Egyptian lootings over the past weeks, not to be trusted, but certainly not to be discounted either.
Hawass’s very old school, and very self-congratulatory, website and blog don’t have dates assigned to the posts published therein, but reading through the short texts, there are some gems worth sharing as well as information to take into consideration. Below, please find a run-down of the statements and blunders Hawass makes through this most personal PR outlet.
In “State of Egyptian Antiquities- 3 February 2011,” Hawass asks us to have faith in his egomania integrity:
I am the only source of continuing truth concerning antiquities, and these rumors are aimed at making the Egyptian people look bad. If anything happens to the museum, I would bravely tell everyone all over the world because I am a man of honor, and I would never hide anything from you. It is from my heart that I tell people everywhere that I am the guardian of these monuments that belong to the whole world.
Reassuring, right? Hawass goes on to state that the Egyptian Museum break-in only resulted in “70 broken objects, all of which can and will be restored.” It’s a believable number, but looking at the photos, restoration doesn’t look easy by any stretch of the imagination.
In his February 4 update, Hawass writes that “the most important thing about this is that for the first time in history Egypt has a Ministry of Antiquities.” Who is it? Oh yeah, it’s him. He also refuses any help on the restoration of the 70 objects damaged at the Egyptian museum with a strange-sounding statement about his conservators:
We are thankful for all of the offers of help that we have received, but the conservation lab of the EMC can do this easily and beautifully. Egyptians have completed restoration work before this black week began, and we will continue our work when this time passes.
Maybe he could use a little help? The next post, entitled “The Sphinx is Sad,” is a detailed look through Hawass’s perspective on the state of Egyptian antiquities. The two mummies that were damaged at the Egyptian Museum weren’t royal mummies, which is a helpful fact. The open-air museum at Memphis has not been damaged at all, according to Hawass, and the Giza pyramids as well as their conservation operations are also fine. In an interesting travelogue, Hawass shows his emotional side:
I went to see the Sphinx earlier today, and I felt in my heart that he was sad. I looked carefully into his eyes, and imagined that I saw tears. The Sphinx is sad because of what has happened; Egypt will lose billions and billions of dollars, and for Egypt to recuperate this money it will take at least three years. Today in Tahrir Square there are about 3,000 young people, and I hope they will go home today, so that life in Egypt can go back to normal.
Being so closely allied with the Mubarak regime, Hawass didn’t have much reason to hope for the revolution’s success, clearly. The details in his blog posts are oddly funny, but the reality is still tough to swallow.
“Sad News” tells a different story. Eight objects are reported missing entirely (not just damaged) from the Egyptian Museum, named and listed in the post, including: “Gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun harpooning. Only the torso and upper limbs of the king are missing.” This is the sculpture seen in the photos of the museum break-in, and pictured at left. The post concludes with more bad news: “a magazine in Dahshur was broken into; it is called De Morgan’s.”
More recent blog posts detail the restoration efforts of Hawass’s staff at the Egyptian Museum, and are worth looking at for the photos if not the narrative. Hawass states that broken vitrines are being replaced and repeatedly assures readers that the damage sustained is all restorable. Conservation and restoration are clearly well underway, but then there’s this harrowing account of the arresting of one of the looters:
At this point, the officers are not clear on exactly how many of the criminals actually entered into the museum, but ten people have been in custody since 28 January. One of these ten criminals was actually captured inside of the museum. This is the criminal I met when I arrived at the museum on the morning of Saturday, 29 January. In fact, he was still handcuffed to the iron bars of the exit doors to the new museum bookshop when I got there! This young criminal told me he had done nothing wrong; when I asked why he broke into the museum he began to cry and said, “They told me to.” I hope he will give the officers a detailed report of what had happened inside the museum.
In the most recent post, “An Update on Antiquities,” Hawass once again gets personal. “It is my job to be honest,” he writes, “I am not a politician and I never will be.” But he states that his job is now to “restructure the Ministry of Antiquities.” Hawass’s reputation for being politically aggressive and the inconsistencies and tone of his blog posts don’t really shine a great light on these statements. It remains to be seen where he stands with the military now in power. In the re-building of the government, it will be very important to watch what happens with the custody of Egypt’s ancient heritage, and we should all be wary that it not become a political pawn.
* * *
Related, journalist and senior producer for Democracy Now! had this to say today, which is indeed a hopeful sign:
— Sharif Kouddous (@sharifkouddous) February 14, 2011