Is the face of Egyptian culture the next to topple?

21 Feb 2011 10:46 AM | Anonymous

Is the face of Egyptian culture the next to topple?


From Monday's Globe and Mail

“All the chants that used to be used to insult Mubarak [are] now being substituted with Zahi Hawass, beautiful.” – Egyptian archeologist Nora Shalaby on Twitter, Feb. 16.

Until Hosni Mubarak suddenly became a television staple a few weeks ago, Zahi Hawass was probably the best-known Egyptian outside that country’s borders.

As vice-minister of culture and, since 2002, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), he’s been the country’s most prominent ambassador to the West and the East, donning his now famous Stetson for appearances in umpteen TV documentaries and penning shelves of books with titles such as Secrets from the Sand and Curse of the Pharaohs. When Barack Obama visited the pyramids and the Sphinx near Cairo in June, 2009, it was Hawass who gave the U.S. President the personal tour. When Hawass visited the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario last March, his lecture in Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto drew turn-away crowds.

Now is he about to be turned away himself? Until recently, Hawass seemed unassailable, much like Mubarak. “Everybody loves a star and Hawass in a way is a reality-TV star,” one observer says. Certainly at 63 he’s had his critics, who’ve labelled him, variously, a corrupt blowhard, petulant control freak, publicity hound, promoter of dubious scholarship and whimsical decision-maker. But the criticism, much of it made on condition of anonymity, never seemed to coalesce into anything substantial, not least because Hawass’s power flowed directly from Mubarak; the former president’s wife, Suzanne, was one of his best friends. If you were an archeologist who wanted to dig in, say, the Valley of the Kings, Hawass controlled all access. “You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. You don’t want to ruin the diplomatic relationships that have been set up,” is how one archeologist put it to me.

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