Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquity Affairs, said on his blog today that accusations against him of inappropriate or even illegal behavior had convinced him to stay in office, “so that I can continue to do everything in my power to protect Egypt’s cultural heritage.”
Hawass added: “I have written to Egypt’s attorney general, asking him to look into some of the false accusations that have been made against me. I believe that addressing these issues will help stabilize the Ministry of Antiquities Affairs.”
Numerous allegations of corruption, nepotism, and even criminal behavior have been levelled against Hawass by his critics since the fall of the Mubarak government.
About 150 graduates of archaeology schools demonstrated outside the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo on February 14, seeking jobs and accusing Hawass of corruption. The graduates argued that Egypt’s tourism industry is a major foreign currency earner yet it was unclear how exactly the income is spent, the Associated Press and other media reported. (Unemployed Archaeologists Mob Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities.)
Hawass said in today’s statement on his blog that he had met with some of the archaeology students who had demonstrated outside his office. “I have worked very hard to find the funds to hire 900 new recruits, and will be pleased to offer the best of the current group of job applicants positions within the Ministry,” he said.
The full statement:
On 20 February 2011, all of Egypt’s archaeological sites and six of its antiquities museums reopened. In my opinion, the most important reopening was that of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
After all the rumors surrounding the vandalism and thefts there I am happy to say that it is now truly safe.
A complete inventory is still underway, but for now, it seems that relatively few objects are still missing. This is of course terrible, and we will continue to do everything we can to bring back these pieces as soon as possible; we still hope that they will turn up, as four of the objects that were originally reported as missing have been found already. However, it could have been far worse; all of the museum’s most iconic masterpieces are safe.
Over 1,500 Egyptians visited the museum on Sunday; I believe that they wanted to see if I was true to my word. Many brought flowers and made it clear that they wanted international tourists to return. I am glad to report that about 90 foreign tourists from Brazil, Japan, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands came to the museum. Tourists from both Egypt and abroad also visited Giza, Saqqara, and sites in Luxor.
Throughout this ordeal, there have been people who have been completely dishonest, and have tried, through their statements, to make the situation worse, in some cases by accusing me (in vague terms) of various inappropriate or even illegal behaviors.
Of course, as even these people themselves know, none of these accusations has any basis in reality.
When I was first appointed Minister of Antiquities Affairs, I thought my tenure might be very short, given the political situation. I did not care; I was only glad that the antiquities service had finally been given independence, and would no longer be under the Ministry of Culture.
However, these attacks have convinced me that it is important for me to stay, so that I can continue to do everything in my power to protect Egypt’s cultural heritage. I have written to Egypt’s attorney general, asking him to look into some of the false accusations that have been made against me. I believe that addressing these issues will help stabilize the Ministry of Antiquities Affairs.
I also wish to clarify the situation concerning the many young people who have been protesting outside the Ministry of Antiquities Affairs office building, demanding jobs.
On the one hand, I am thrilled to see how many young people are getting degrees in archaeology these days; I see this as a tribute to how much awareness among Egyptians of the importance of Egypt’s cultural heritage has risen in the past decades. On the other hand, just as it was not possible for the Ministry of Culture to hire all of these recent graduates, it is still not possible for our new Ministry of Antiquities Affairs to hire everyone with a degree in archaeology.
The reality is that people from all professions, and from all over the world, need work. As everyone knows, getting a degree in a certain subject is never a guarantee of a job in that field. However, continuing a policy of job creation within the antiquities department I began many years ago, I have worked very hard to find the funds to hire 900 new recruits, and will be pleased to offer the best of the current group of job applicants positions within the Ministry.
Zahi Hawass and students after their meeting.
Photo courtesy of Ministry of State for Antiquity Affairs
This first phase of recruitment will provide the newly hired archaeologists and restorers paid training within the Ministry for a period of 5 months. A second phase will provide the same paid training for 500 additional recruits, and will be followed by a third phase in which 500 more graduates will be hired and trained.
Yesterday I met with a group of young archaeologists who were representatives of the protesters who have been picketing the Ministry building in recent days. These university graduates came to offer their apologies to me.
The meeting was an impromptu event during which I was offered flowers by the students in a gesture of goodwill. The students made it clear that their protests were only held because previously there had been a lack of information about how the Ministry, formerly known as the Supreme Council of Antiquities, was trying to increase the number of jobs available for newly qualified archaeologists and restorers.
Now that they understand the realities of the situation, they wished to express their appreciation, and their desire to work together for the benefit of Egypt’s past and future.
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