Posted today on the blog of Zahi Hawass, former Egyptian Minister of Antiquity Affairs:
Q: Dr. Hawass, for many years you have been the image of modern Egyptology. Why are you leaving now?
A: “I am leaving because of a variety of important reasons. The first reason is that, during the Revolution of January 25th, the Egyptian Army protected our heritage sites and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. However, in the last 10 days the army has left these posts because it has other tasks to do. The group now in charge of the protection of these sites is the Tourist Police, but there are no Tourist Police to do this either. Therefore, what happens?
Egyptian criminals, thieves (you know, in every revolution bad people always appear…), have begun to destroy tombs. They damaged the tomb of Hetep-ka at Saqqara, the tomb of Petah-Shepses at Abu Sir and the tomb of a person called Em-pi at Giza. They attacked a storage magazine at Saqqara and we do not yet know how many artifacts are missing; they opened two storage magazines at Giza; one tomb dated to the 19th Dynasty, the only one in the Delta in fact, was damaged at Ismaïlia; and a store at El-Qantara East has been broken into and looted for antiquities.
People have begun to build houses and to excavate at night, everywhere, putting heritage sites all over the country at risk. I had to write a report and I sent it to the Director of UNESCO. That is why at the meeting of the Egyptian cabinet yesterday I had my speech prepared already and I said: “I cannot stay in Egypt and see antiquities being stolen when I cannot do anything to stop it!”
This situation is not for me! I have always fought to return stolen artifacts to Egypt. I did fight Ahmed Ezz as well, the man in the Parliament, who was the most powerful man, because he wanted to allow antiquities to be sold in Egypt again.
The second reason is that there are two crooks in the Antiquities Department, who have accused me of stealing antiquities and doing other illegal things all of the time. Their files talk about this. A third person started saying similar things, a university professor who was the Antiquities Director for almost 6 years before me, who never accomplished anything in that time. As a corrupt man, he even gave his signed permission to a rich lady from another Arabic country to take manuscripts out of Egypt!
These three people encouraged young Egyptians to protest against me personally, to shout outside my office that they needed jobs. Sadly, I cannot give a job to everyone, but I did find funds to provide nearly 2000 training positions. In response to the horrible rumors that I am stealing antiquities. How could this be?! How could a man who has given his life to protecting and promoting antiquities, be accused later of stealing them?!
Because of all of these things, I believe that if I stay in my position for another six months, I will never be able to protect the antiquities I love and I will never be able to work during this mess. All my life, I have been excavating, discovering, writing books and giving lectures all over the world. My work is responsible for bringing many tourists to Egypt, which helps our economy. But now I cannot do this! Therefore, I decided to resign”.
Q: Your decision could have a very negative impact on tourism in Egypt and on the image of the post-revolutionary Egypt…
A: “I know. I agree with you, but what can I do? I cannot work during this mess. Antiquities are my life. I cannot see with this mess in front of me. I cannot work with these dishonest people trying to tell everyone else that they are honest. I was writing an article before you came about a situation similar to this that happened 4000 ago in Egypt. A nice man, his name was Ipuwer, tells us on a papyrus what he saw when he took a look at the state of the country. He describes chaos – how the poor became rich and rich became poor. The lady who had a mirror before cannot find the mirror now. She looks at her face in the water. People robbed the pyramids, they robbed everything. That is what is happening now too! It is something I cannot stop! I can work if there is discipline and honesty, but dishonest people have begun to appear and to attack the honest people. I can stand against them if antiquities are safe, but at the moment antiquities are not safe!”
Q: What are the conditions under which you would come back to lead the Ministry of Antiquities?
A: “I will come back if there is stability at the sites and if there are police, as it was before, to protect the sites, but now people come to them with guns. They stand in front of my security people, who run away, because they are not armed. In the past, the police refused to give them weapons. Therefore, everyday, in the morning, I am waiting for news. What has been robbed today? What has been stolen today? Since I cannot stop this, I cannot come back.
Q: Recently, you issued an urgent appeal to the young Egyptians of the revolution to protect the sites. What was the reason behind this?
A: “It was wonderful. This is something that really everyone should know. On Saturday, January the 29th, I went to Tahrir Square at nine in the morning. I walked among the young people there. They came to me and explained how they put themselves in front of the Egyptian Museum to protect it. When I checked inside, I saw that all the masterpieces of the Museum’s collection were still there. That is why I originally announced that the Museum was safe. Sadly, we have since discovered that 18 objects were stolen and 70 were damaged, but the final report is still in preparation and we will know the real result soon. The Director of the Museum has told me that there are more missing artifacts, but none are major pieces. Thanks God, someone found a statue of Akhenaton giving an offering near a garbage can in Tahrir Square and returned it.
The Egyptian Museum is open again now. I would like people to go to it and see that it is safe. I have also been arguing with people who are now trying to tell me, “How can you ask for the bust of Nefertiti to be returned to Egypt, if your own people are stealing and damaging the monuments?”. I say that if what happened in Egypt, with the police force abandoning the streets for two nights, had happened in Rome, for example, Rome too would be robbed, completely. Their museums would have been robbed as well. Thank God, all that happened that day here was not that bad.”
Q: Frankly, Dr. Hawass, are you encouraging tourists to come back to Cairo and to the archaeological sites, or is this still not safe?
A: “Honestly, I have to tell you that if the Ministers of Tourism and of the Interior make a statement to give back the police their power, tourists could come to visit Egypt again. Until now, however, they have not done this. This means that visitors from abroad will have to wait until police officers and Antiquities Police are at every archaeological site once more.”
Q: Until that moment, it is not safe?
A: “I can say this, yes.”
Video to follow soon…