On Sunday, January 16, I interviewed Zahi Hawass in his office in Zamalek, the elegant Cairene island in the Nile and home of the Gezira Sports Club, from which Hawass commanded an army of 32,000 employees as secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The following Thursday, I left Egypt. And five days later the mass protests erupted that would topple the government of Hosni Mubarak. As part of an effort to save his thoroughly despised regime, Mubarak appointed Hawass Minister for Antiquities. One blogger described Hawass’s appointment this way: “Zahi Hawass, the bombastic, clownish pseudo-archaeologist who has tyrannized, bullied, and manipulated Egyptologists and Egyptian Villagers alike for years now, today officially accepted President Hosni Mubarak’s appointment as Minister of State for Antiquities.” On March 3, Hawass resigned but was reappointed in March (see sidebar).
But my interview with Hawass was before all this. True, Hawass was widely vilified—but also widely admired. The New Yorker called him the “international star of Egyptology … at the intersection of archaeology, show business and national politics.”
The New York Times, on the other hand, had characterized him as “obnoxious.” He threw “tantrums,” the Times said, at his subordinates. I was also aware, as the Times put it in another article, “He has been taken to task for his critical statements about Jews.”
I found him confident, overbearing, domineering, brash and loud. But he was also sometimes reasonable and often even charming.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Egypt’s Chief Archaeologist Defends His Rights (and Wrongs)
Biblical Archaeological Review (Hershel Shanks)